Can we truly be in the moment and still think generations ahead?
Recently, I was swimming in a lake with my five year old granddaughter. We were laughing, enjoying the warm sun and the moment of playing together in one of nature’s beautiful creations. I was reminded how critical it is to be in the moment and celebrate the richness of such relationships. How do we get to a place where preserving such moments for our children and grandchildren transcends our focus on ourselves and politics?
When I served in the North Dakota Senate (2006-2010) one of my colleagues and friends (who also is a Native American historian) lifted up the importance of the Seven Generation principle in connection with the legislation we were voting on. I don’t remember the exact issue, only that it happened during an important floor debate. This principle, taught by Native Americans, as I understand it, says that for every decision, whether personal, corporate or governmental, we must consider how it will affect our descendants seven generations into the future. The idea being that the beauties of nature and the earth will still be there for the generations that follow. This is a limited explanation of a profound principle.
A generation is often considered to be 25 years, so we’re looking at 125 years or more. My understanding is that this principle was codified in the Iriquois Great Law of Peace, has now been around for over a thousand years, and is embraced by tribes all around the world.
The cool response received from our Republican colleagues in the Senate to such an outlandish proposal at a time when the lure of oil money and wealth loomed large in North Dakota was, in many ways, symptomatic of our country’s immature view of our personal responsibility as stewards of the earth.
As parents and grandparents, many of us are trying to be more thoughtful in considering the world our generation is leaving to all our children and now grandchildren. Look at the folks serving in Congress and the Senate. Most of them are my age or older. That is both the good news and the bad news. Many of them are parents and grandparents and people with rich life experiences that uniquely prepare them to be looking seven generations ahead. Yet, they don’t. Why not? Many are climate change deniers mired in raising money to get reelected, focused too often on staying in power and not on the world they are both creating and leaving for the next generations. Where is the Native American wisdom found in the Seven Generation principle?
While both political parties suffer from this short sighted malady, sometimes I find myself, as both a Christian and a Democrat, wondering how lawmakers who lift up their faith and family values at election time, are thinking one generation ahead, much less seven, when drafting their legislation and voting. I’m guessing not many. Why not? Maybe one major reason is because we as voters are not demanding it. Again, why not?
Yes, the current system is broken, rigged by those in power to benefit those in power. I’m sure you’re shocked. There is currently really no incentive for our elected representatives to do things differently. Too much money. Who has millions of dollars, or can raise millions of dollars, to run for the House or Senate? Too much special interest money. No term limits has served to transform politics into a career, not a call to public service.
We continue to allow our elected leaders to make short sighted decisions about future generations’ future survival and, as our Native friends continue to remind us, we cannot eat or drink our oil or cash. Crippling debt? Not my problem. Unconscionable defense spending? Look, you need to be afraid. But hey, let’s make America great again.
Let me suggest that perhaps that critical life skill of knowing how to truly be in the moment, and understanding and appreciating the miracles we receive every day, is essential to our more fuller understanding of the need to be making decisions looking seven generations ahead, or even one or two generations. It is in experiencing the gifts and miracles of the moment that we come to grips with the fragility and marvels of our existence. Giving someone our full attention is perhaps one of the most generous gifts we can give to anyone. We have, as far as my limited human understanding goes, one chance at this life. We also have one planet and responsibility as human beings and stewards of this world that transcend the smallness of our human politics.
Literally, as I was writing this, presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump appeared in North Dakota to speak about oil. But before doing that he had to first chide Senator Elizabeth Warren – and call her “Pocahontas,” again. I can’t make this stuff up! A Native reporter called Trump out on this insulting behavior that is insulting to Native Americans, and to all Americans. Apparently, such Trumpish comments were not insulting to some of the North Dakota Republican Party leaders on stage with Mr. Trump, including a Republican State Senator, who actually laughed when the Pocahontas reference was made.
Seven generations? What do you think?