Have you ever run for office? Been elected? It doesn’t have to be for political offices necessarily, it could be for any number of organizations. Hobby clubs, service organizations, charities, or church organizations. I have, and it’s why I’m what’s called a pragmatist when it comes to my politics. There are times when I think that many activists have never had that experience. They’re intense. They advocate for their cause (whatever it is) to the exclusion of other considerations. Which can be a good thing, except that there’s a bad tendency to overlook the very real concerns about their approach, with an unwillingness to consider that achieving their goal may not be practical in one step.
Ideals are a wonderful thing. We all have them. What changed me from an idealist to a pragmatist was the experience of actually having to put them into action as a member, board member, or officer of various organizations. It’s great to have this wonderful idea of how things “should be done.” It’s often another thing entirely when you try to actually do it! You quickly find out that not everyone agrees with you, and they may have some valid reasons for it. There are practical obstacles to deal with: How are you going to pay for it? Who’s going to do this? Who’s in charge? How do you do this in the long run? What happens if it doesn’t work? Those are all very real things. I’ve proposed and have heard any number of “good ideas” that ended up getting shot down by reality.
What I’ve learned with those experiences was to work with other people. To listen to why they were objecting. There have been times when the beautiful idea turned out to be unworkable in practice. There was something I overlooked. Sometimes, there was just no money to do it. There are those times when someone is going to be against you simply because that’s what they do: Be against anything you’re for. You have to figure out how to work around them, or decide just how important it is to get your way. You have to accept that you’re not going to get everything you want.
Dealing with those situations as an elected official for organizations made me a pragmatist. It’s great to have an ideal, to have a picture of what’s “perfect.” But if it’s not going to work, you have to do something that does. If you’re not going to get your way, you try to get what you can. Continuing to demand “all or nothing” usually means you end up with nothing.