This week, Jack Monroe was central to the push to get shoddy food packages for hungry children sorted out. Almost at once, Twitter was full of people who wanted to talk about how if Jack was serious about tackling child poverty, she would have supported Jeremy Corbyn. It’s a typical story – someone does something well meaning and genuinely good and is shot down over something else. It may be deliberate trolling, it may be a cultural problem, I suspect it’s both and I see it a lot.
There will never be a perfect leader, charity, organisation or ally who does absolutely everything you want in the totally perfect way all of the time. If you wait for that perfection, you’ll never do anything. If you decide that only your perfection will do, you’ll likely run into how imperfect other people find you. Lots of people trying to start their own revolution because no one else’s revolution is quite good enough does not get much done. We need to work together, and to do that we have to accept that none of us are perfect.
How imperfect can we cope with? It’s an important question. If someone is at odds with a key value, you might struggle to work with them no matter how good the work is. The questions of when, where and how to compromise are incredibly personal and specific, there’s no way to map a generalised answer for this. My favourite strawman for this is the fictional group Nazis for Sustainable Farming. I would not work with them. But what about the person who is doing amazing, frontline work on child safety but isn’t very good on some gender issues? Or the person who is a brilliant champion against plastic use, but flies off on holiday? At what point does a flaw become an issue of hypocrisy? It can be hard to say.
It can be helpful to ask whether anyone else is doing the work – if there’s a selection of people/organisations tackling an issue you may be able to find the one that is the best match for you. If the issue is important and the only person leading on it is problematic, you have to balance how important the work is against how problematic the person is. Also ask who they are – there’s a world of difference between a problematic person working for a cause they are dedicated to, and a high profile person making noise when you aren’t sure what their real motives are.
The movement to save wild otters in the UK had a great deal to do with otter hunting and it was otter hunters who first identified the population decline. This is a good example of a difficult scenario. People may be allies over one issue but coming to it from such different angles as to have nothing else in common. Can you make that work? Should you? What’s the most important issue?
It would be hard to name an area of human activity that isn’t urgently in need of a rethink right now. There is so much that needs doing, tripping up people trying to do the work because they aren’t as perfect as we want them to be, isn’t helping. We’re becoming polarised, and we need some degree of compromise and a spirit of co-operation. At the same time we need to think carefully about the issues we’re prepared to ignore for the sake of getting things done, and to consider carefully the balance between means and ends.