For the Grandchildren
We do not inherit the world from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children. ~ Native American proverb
My daughter Ruth and her husband have welcomed a new child – my second grandson – into the world. Welcome, Gus. I hope with all my heart that your new life will be filled with joy, purpose, and love.
There is something magical about being a grandparent. Of course there’s the wonder of handing the kid back to his parents and climbing into bed knowing you’ll get uninterrupted sleep. There’s the wonder of having a living room not decorated by children’s toys, and the open calendar slots formerly filled with doctor appointments and such. There is a joy – a magical sense of gratitude and completion – that comes along with these little dear hearts.
But having grandchildren has also caused me to reflect on my legacy. What kind of world have we welcomed these children into? In many ways, it’s better than the one that greeted me in 1956. Mine was an uneasy world in which children were taught to duck and cover, and conventionality comforted many of us while masking our fear of the disintegration of our carefully constructed national brand. My grandchildren have come to a world in which many more things are possible than ever before for individuals unconstrained by prejudice or conventional wisdom.
But while I don’t wallow in guilt about the world my generation has helped to create, I can’t say I’m awfully proud of it either. We’ve planned poorly in regard to national resources and energy. We have created enormous environmental problems, failed to adequately address corruption in our institutions, allowed billions of humans to live in poverty, and spent much of our children’s inheritance on our own vanities.
Recently we speculated on The Boss Show about what would happen if business managers were subject to regular elections – the voters being their employees and stakeholders. We agreed that our bosses should seek the approval of their employees – but that it’s not next week’s election they should be aiming toward, but rather the election two years or ten years hence.
In the same way, I want to work to win the election 20 years from now. I want to be re-elected Grandpa, not just because I read books to my grandchildren, or served them ice cream, or made their boo-boos feel better, but because I had the integrity to work toward a decent and functional society and planet to hand over to them.
There’s something very focusing about taking such a long-term view of one’s behavior.
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