In the Interest of the Seventh Generation

There is a tradition in some societies,
whenever decisions are being made, to
consider the interests of the next seven generations.

For the modern world to do the same
would mark our passage to maturity.

Making decisions in the interest of the Seventh Generation compels us to look beyond the next financial quarter, the next election cycle, indeed, beyond our own lives and even the lives of our children and grandchildren. It requires that we commit to the good of our species - long after we are forgotten.

Being human is a great privilege which is easy to take for granted. We are mistaken to assume the greatness of being human to be our own greatness. Our individuality is just a small presence carried by the awesome structure of being human. It has long been noted that we "stand on the shoulders of giants." This is true both intellectually and biologically.

None of us made the opposable thumb, or the circulatory system that enables a hundred trillion cells to cooperate in keeping our bodies alive and doing our bidding. We didn't create sight or hearing or any of the other senses through which we are able to perceive the world. And our brain: who is responsible for the amazing capacity we have to remember details, to recognize patterns, to understand and speak words, and to imagine how to organize various materials into all manner of things? From where comes our capacity to love and to fear? All this potential comes free with birth, without our having to do anything. A vast collection of biological wonders accumulated over two and a half billion years !

There is a more recent but no less impressive list of wonders that we inherit from our evolving culture.

An individual who makes good use of these inherited abilities can take some credit. From within our human form great things can be accomplished. It is the role of individuals in every age to act to meet the problems and opportunities that we perceive in the world around us. Thank goodness for such individuality; we are the leading edge of adaptation as life proceeds through its third billion years.

When we make decisions in the interest of the seven generations, it is our inherited greatness that we seek to sustain. Among the problems facing today's humans is diminishing reserves of fossil fuel. As prices rise, increasingly vast fortunes drain steadily from communities to support drilling and processing. It could be that fossil fuels will be too expensive to use within the time it takes a baby to become a responsible parent. Perhaps, with fracking, deep-sea drilling, arctic resources and seabed methane our dependence on carbon fuels can be stretched to serve another generation, less likely to a third, though the climate problems, economic stress and other collateral degradation would be formidable.

That leaves four generations still to consider before the interests of the seventh come into view. How do we pay respect to our parents and to the 7,000 other generations that came before us? Without all their efforts, we would not be able to enjoy the awesome privilege of being human upon this wonder-filled planet.

The next time you make a decision, consider all your relations.

Where Will the Grandchildren Live; An Alternative View of Retiremen a letter to my granddaughter.