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Sep 05

Be a Good Ancestor Today

My Son and I reading on my Nook Color

Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors

– Jonas Salk (Developer of the first Polio Vaccine)

Recently I have ran across several blogs, topics, books, podcasts, etc., promoting the message, “Be a Good Ancestor Today”. While it appears that the message originates from the above quote by Dr. Salk, the message has recently been popularized by the World Wildlife Fund, Dr. Judith Rich, Samantha Power, as well as various other authors and academics.

The central message of this theme/movement is that we must undertake actions that will ensure that future generations, our kids, grand-kids, etc., enjoy a healthy society and environment. While this might seem opposed to a “living in the now” mentality, it is not. While a living in the now mentality involves enjoying and fully experiencing each moment of life to the fullest (Zen Buddhism has excellent teachings on this), it certainly does not mean that we should undertake actions which are selfish, or harmful to others. To the contrary, we each have a duty to make sure that others are not harmed by our actions. We should always seek to help, but take care to never harm or negatively influence others. Future generations should look back on our life, and find it worthy of emulation.

During the recent U.S. Congress debt ceiling fiasco, I heard several academics and economists say that unless drastic steps were taken regarding the U.S. economy and accumulation of debt, future generations would be saddled with a maligned economic situation that they did not create, and may not be able to get out of. As a parent, this particularly struck me, because I wouldn’t want my child(ren), or future grand-kids, to suffer in anyway because of my actions. Of Course, while I have no say on what happens in Washington, D.C. (other than a single vote on who represents me), I can undertake actions that will hopefully help not only myself and my progeny, but society as a whole.

First, in regards to finances, you should try to make sure that you are not a financial burden on your offspring. Admittedly, this is an area that I have often struggled with, especially in regards to the massive debt that I accumulated while obtaining my Bachelor of Arts, and Juris Doctorate degrees. However, we can each make decisions regarding our finances that will help us not get in over our heads with debt, whether it is reducing our monthly expenses, or finding extra sources of income.

Second, in regards to your personal life, you should seek to undertake actions which fulfill your life, and positively impact the lives of others. I grew up hearing stories of my grandfathers, Thomas “Nelson” Slamans and G.W. Marshall, and their exploits in World War II. While I rarely ever heard either of my grandfathers speak directly of their wartime experiences, probably because of the traumatic memories involved, their services were a point of pride among the family members who relayed the stories to me. In our personal lives, we should seek to undertake actions that will make future generations proud of us. Basically undertake actions that will make you become a revered ancestor, rather than an unmeaningful, or even shameful ancestor. This can be done through volunteering in projects that positively impact your community, donating to charities, or doing the right thing if you are confronted with a historically significant situation.

Third, in regards to social debates and issues, think about how future generations will look back on the issue, and act appropriately. I know during my undergraduate studies, and especially in law school, when we would study issues such as slavery, bi-racial marriage, civil rights etc., I couldn’t help but think to myself “what were those who opposed these things thinking?”. I think if more people would think about social situations with an eye on universal humanity, as well as how future generations will judge us, many of the modern social issues, such as gay marriage, will be solved in a manner that future generations will deem appropriate, rather than judge us as backwards bigots. In fact, in regards to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) President Obama, has stated that he is concerned how future generations will judge us in relation to that Act (which will most likely be negative).

Fourth, in regards to the environment, try to live as “green” as possible. Try recycling as much as you can, and try to consume less products, especially non-local products which have to be transported to you. One way that my family has tried to be more “green” and environmentally conscious is to plant a vegetable garden, which not only provides our family with wholesome organic vegetables, but it has reduced our impact on the environment, by not having vegetables transported to us. Also, we have begun to compost our organic waste, which provides us with rich soil for the garden, rather than simply decomposing in a landfill somewhere.

My Wife and Son releasing fish into our pond.

Finally, be an appropriate mentor and guide to those around you, especially young people and your offspring. My wife Jessica is a school teacher, and my mother Betty is a retired school teacher, and I am in awe of the impact that they each have made, and are continuing to make, on the lives of their students. By appropriately teaching and instructing a young person, you can positively effect future generations, who may not know your name, but will be positively effected by the wisdom you imparted. For those of us who are not educators, we can positively impact future generations by simply being a positive role model in our community, as well as being a positive parent to our children, who will one day leave our home and go out into the world at large.

For an excellent book on this topic, I recommend:Becoming Good Ancestors: How We Balance Nature, Community, and Technology by David W. Ehrenfeld

Practical Tip: When faced with an important decision, try and act with an eye on the future, act in a way which will positively impact not only your future, but your offspring and society as a whole. Also, undertake actions and support organizations and groups that seek to protect our environment, wildlife, education, and social aspects that will be important to future generations.

If you enjoyed this piece, please share on social network sites, subscribe to this site, and share this site with others!

Also please check out my book, “The Path: Using the Religions of the World as a Guide to Personal and Spiritual Development.” (Click on the book cover to view on Amazon.com)

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