“The eyes of the future are looking back at us and they are praying for us to see beyond our own time.”
Terry Tempest Williams
I have the best job in the world and I love it. Let me tell you about it:
I can show up for work whenever I want. I can take as many vacations as I want. I get to set my own pace and pursue my own projects. I can wear baggy clothes and go barefoot. No one ever gives me any grief about what I say or think. And no, I don’t work at Patagonia, although that would be great. My gig is something else altogether.
If this all sounds ideal, you’re probably wondering how you can get a position like this for yourself. But before I get you connected, you might want to know what you’re getting into. There are, as you might imagine, a few downsides. First of all, the pay is abysmal. I don’t get paid by the week, by the month or by the project. Strictly speaking, I don’t get paid at all. This makes my financial life rather difficult. My income is best described as theoretical, which doesn’t really carry much weight when I need to pay for things. Bit of a problem, that.
Also, the working conditions are pretty ambiguous. I never know if I’m doing my work in the right way. I don’t actually get to meet with my boss, so I don’t have any supervision. I don’t even have a manager, so feedback is pretty non-existent. I’m kind of working in the dark.
But the real challenge is that the people I’m working for haven’t actually been born yet. In fact, they’re members of the 7th generation. They’re our descendants, 140 years or more in the future. They want me to make wise, powerful choices and do good work on their behalf, but it’s hard to communicate the specifics. It sounds abstract, I know, but that’s my gig.
As you probably know, the idea of living with the 7th generation in mind comes from the Native American tradition. Specifically, it originates from the Great Law of the Iroquois which advises people to think seven generations ahead and decide whether the decisions they make today would benefit their descendants.
There’s even been a proposal to add a Seventh Generation amendment to the U.S. Constitution. This is an element of the Green Party platform and was a major part of the Winona LaDuke for Vice President campaign in 2000. The proposed language: “The right of citizens of the United States to use and enjoy air, water, sunlight and other renewable resources determined by the Congress to be common property shall not be impaired, nor shall such use impair their availability for the use of future generations.” Naturally, I support this effort.
So these 7th geners are the people I’m working for; they’re my employers if you will. They don’t pay me a dime, but the benefits I receive more than make up for it. This long view gives me a valuable sense of perspective and makes my personal struggles seem less overwhelming. After all, I have a big, important job to do and there are people who’re depending on me to do it right. If I make wise choices, they may well enjoy a better life. This perspective gets me beyond my own personal dramas and gives me a powerful sense of meaning.
But the question remains: What is it that the 7th generation really wants from me and from us? There’s no talking to them directly and besides, the world is going to be drastically different 7 generations from now. Nevertheless, we can make some safe assumptions based on what we know about our own world. That is, our descendants would want us to take better care of the earth and the creatures that inhabit it. They’d want us to be kinder to one another. They want us to slow down our manic pace of activity. They’d want us to sacrifice and to share. They’d want us to be more activist and courageous. In other words, they’d want us to be a little more sapient.
It’s kind of a tall order, but a good one. In fact, it’s actually a powerful win-win for us and for them. After all, being a good ancestor isn’t just good for the 7th generation. It’s good for us too. In fact, it’s the best job I’ve ever had.
Just try it and you’ll see what I mean.