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The Good Ancestor: A Radical Prescription for Long-Term Thinking

Posted on September 1, 2021, by Martha Crawley CoL

This is how things come to be: A while back, in a Community Group, Kitty Madden mentioned this book, “The Good Ancestor,” by Roman Krznaric. Jessie Rathburn picked up on it, invited a group to read and discuss it and, well, it was a five-star sharing in a group that totaled about 12 on June 24.

It would be impossible to capture the essence of our discussion or to summarize the book — both are BIG. But we want to offer a taste to whet the palates of heart and mind for those not present. We want to suggest that many of the concepts for being good ancestors not only reflect our own Loretto heritage, but also offer a unique and essential guide for us as we live into these liminal times in the Loretto Community and in the world. We also offer a couple of links to short videos that capture well the overall content of the book.

Why, one might ask, does humanity need a prescription for the kind of stance required to be a good ancestor? The author suggests that thinking long past our own lives and our near descendants is a “new adaptation in the animal kingdom, and we don’t do it very well.” Still, it is our responsibility to the future of the planet to live with the Seventh Generation and beyond in the forefront of our minds and hearts. This must inform every decision we make as individuals and as community. The Maori concept of “whakapapa has a central role in this posture. “It is explained in this way:

“Whakapapa — a long, unbroken chain of humans standing arm in arm from the beginning of time to the end of eternity. And the sun shines for just a moment on this, our time. It’s our obligation and responsibility to add to the legacy. Our first responsibility is to be a good ancestor.”

In the chapter “Legacy Mindset,” Krznaric states, “There may be no higher calling than leaving a gift to the universal strangers of tomorrow … a gift that links us back to the first cellular organisms and forward …” In another chapter, “Intergenerational Justice,” he writes, “There may be no other moment in history when the actions of the present have had such monumental consequences for the future.” We each have a collective responsibility to avoid “the enslavement of future generations.”

In the chapter “Transcendent Goal,” Krznaric quotes such thinkers as Aristotle, Nietzsche, Victor Frankl and Carl Sagan. Sagan suggests that “whole societies should adopt a telos to guide them,” what he called “a long-term goal and a sacred project.” Author Janine Benyus writes, “[t]he answers we seek, the secrets of a sustainable world, are literally all around us. … In the natural world the definition of success is the continuity of Life. … Life has learned to create conditions conducive to life.”

How do we as Loretto become better ancestors? We must look behind us at those who came before us; around us at those we see, know and love right now; and ahead to those on the path that emerges after us, the ones we cannot fully imagine. How do we lead ourselves, each one of us in the lead, to write the “prescription” for a whole and healthy planet that we will leave behind?

Years ago, I was the therapist for a darling 5-year-old boy named Joey. He was blind and a bit developmentally delayed. We worked each day on a simple skill that I now cannot remember. One day Joey succeeded with the task, turned to me and said, “Marfa, how did I do that?” Maybe we can leave a place, a trail, a legacy, a path behind that someone, someday might look back on and say, “How did they do that?”

Of Interest

Roman Krznaric discussing “The Good Ancestor”:

https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=_GF6foZxm8M

Janine Benyus discusses biomimicry and finding already-present answers to global issues:

https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=sf4oW8OtaPY


Martha Crawley CoL

Martha Crawley CoL, a 1969 graduate of Loretto Heights College and a former Sister of Loretto, has been involved with Loretto through all those years, demonstrating against the Vietnam War, praying at Rocky Flats and going on annual retreat with Loretto friends. An occupational therapist, Martha has worked and volunteered in numerous social agencies. She resides in Denver.
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