Into the ever-expanding landscape of documentaries comes the new entry from the folks at Well.org and Pedram Shojai, the Prosperity film. Criticism levelled at documentaries are often based around the ‘reality’ of what they are depicting. Filmmakers cannot help but to present their angle, their perspective on the events they are relating. This happens in the filming, in the editing, and in the narration. This criticism is not able to be laid on Prosperity film as its topic is clear, an idea not an event.
First, a little more about Pedram Shojai and Well.org, the people behind Prosperity film. Shojai is an author, teacher, Taoist minister, herbalist, acupuncturist, and wellness consultant. He has written several books including 2011’s Rise and Shine: Awaken Your Energy Body with Taoist Alchemy and Qi Gong, 2016’s The Urban Monk: Eastern Wisdom and Modern Hacks to Stop Time and Find Success, Happiness, and Peace, and this year (2017’s) The Art of Stopping Time: Practical Mindfulness for Busy People. Shojai’s goal is to help people live well. Full stop. The Prosperity film aims to do just that.
Prosperity is Shojai’s love letter to ‘Conscious Capitalism,’ the economic model of thought that businesses should not just be concerned with their financial bottom line, but also the effect on people and the environment. These three concerns are also referred to as the Triple Bottom Line approach. Speaking a bit larger scale, conscious capitalism is the means by which the capitalist economic model can be leveraged to support ‘good’ ideas.
To start, Shojai asks the audience to redefine their understanding of ‘prosperity.’ Criticism can be laid at the traditional idea, that wealth is prosperity. Shojai instead asks to incorporate our values into it. For example, if you we feel that we want to be more sustainable in our lives, living as green as can be and what have you, then we should add that into our sense of being prosperous. A key way to do that, to have purpose, values, and impact is to vote with our dollars.
Voting with your wallet has a storied history as a saying, but it is the real honest truth. If you want companies to be more environmentally aware, you need to reward the companies that are making those efforts, that is the only way to encourage more of it. Companies exist to make profits, whether we like it or not, so whenever the chance to choose between Company A doing business as normal and Company B who are putting in efforts to source their materials consciously, it should be no choice at all.
Another piece of the conscious capitalism puzzle, past just spending your dollars in the right places is using the powers available to us to make our own businesses or jobs conscious efforts. To represent this Shojai spends time with companies like Studio Movie Grill, a business that encourages and supports all of its employees’ various efforts in giving back. By having this purpose, people can feel prosperous (see where we’re going with this?)
To tie up these messages, the final portion of the film features Shojai and a colleague in South American who is working with the Guna (or Cuna) peoples solving a local plastic waste problem afflicting their environment. The Guna have more modernized consumption habits such as eating canned fish or drinking bottled water, but their waste habits have not grown with them. Instead they toss the waste into the waters. This was fine when their diets were fish and local fruits and vegetables where the matter would degrade in the water and feed other biomes but no longer is that the case. To solve this Shojai connected his colleague with Terracycle, a company who specializes in recycling hard to recycle products who themselves had paired with Proctor & Gamble to create shampoo bottles from 100% recycled plastics. The environment, the people, and -should consumers support this cause- profit were all in line with the goal.
The documentary ends with Shojai suggesting that to want to tackle all the problems in the world is often too immense a task to even start. It’s true, when you want to end world hunger, deforestation in the Amazon, as well as create world peace, it can be damn difficult to find a place to start. What is accomplishable is the smaller, more local scale efforts, such as what was done with Guna. If everyone simply fixed the smaller issues in front of them, then the entire world would quite dramatically be in much better shape than it currently is.
All of this is to say that for the Prosperity film, criticisms like ‘slanted’ or ‘dishonest’ editing isn’t as much of a concern. The idea of conscious capitalism exists, it can be worked at from numerous angles and should people learn to follow their own values, it can change the world. As Shojai points out in the film, there is about to be the biggest transfer of wealth in human history, as the Millennial generation inherits from the Baby Boomers, they will be able to put money where their mouths are and maybe, just maybe, save the world.