by Zoe Weil
Voltaire once wrote “Le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.” The most common translation is “Perfect is the enemy of good.”
For many months I struggled with the title of my book, Most Good, Least Harm.
After reading the fantastic books Cradle to Cradle and Break Through, I found myself wanting to avoid environmentalism’s (often deserved) negative stereotypes of painting doom and gloom scenarios and demanding endless sacrifices to save the world.
For many people, such approaches simply don’t work to inspire change. My title, while stressing “good,” also acknowledges “harm.” In Cradle to Cradle and Break Through the authors take a different approach, suggesting that we really can create just good.
But I kept the title Most Good, Least Harm, and I did so, not because I reject the idea that we can one day create a truly good world with systems that are beneficial to all, but because I don’t want the pursuit of perfection – an impossibility until we actually do create the necessary systems – to become the enemy of good.
For many, the fact that current systems prevent us from doing all good and no harm can become an impediment to incremental, individual changes, because we see our imperfect choices as either equivalent or insignificant. (For example, I’m typing this blog post on my computer, which is filled with toxic metals, mined in an unsustainable manner, and put together and eventually disassembled by people who are often treated exploitatively and exposed to these dangerous toxins.)
But just because the choices that we currently have are imperfect does not mean that those choices are equal.
A Prius is not equal to a Suburban, even though neither is perfect and both depend on an unsustainable system of fossil fuels.
As we work to make choices that do the most good and least harm — or MOGO choices (the term I use to shorten the concept “most good, least harm” is short for “most good”), we mustn’t let a commitment to finding what is ultimately perfect stand in the way of doing good.