Chief Red Cloud. Photo 1897 David F. Barry
Have you ever heard someone - and in my experience it is rarely a person with an indigenous background, upbringing or understanding - say something about living in ways that honor the seventh generation?
It is a phrase I have heard repeatedly in some circles, spoken by people with very honorable intentions. It’s a phrase I used myself for many years without truly understanding its meaning.
In conversations about the future I would say things like: We need to consider how this decision will impact people seven generations from now.
Rarely did I, or the people with whom I was speaking, have even the vaguest idea of how something we were doing now would impact someone 140 years from now, or have the slightest notion of what an effective way of judging our actions in that context would be.
The idea of the seventh generation sounded good, but did not really have much traction when it came to the way I lived my life on a day-to-day basis.
Paula was a wisdom keeper.
She was living link to a past that stretches back over 10,000 years and is kept alive through a rigorous process of teaching and storytelling. She was marvel of woman, soft and gentle in her manner, powerful and grounded in her tradition.
Paula taught that indigenous people are careful observers of the world and of life - after all, if your very survival depends on distinguishing between two plants that look almost identical, one of which is a healing plant and the other a deadly poison, your powers of observation become highly refined.
Hard won knowledge, sometimes obtained by great sacrifice or through horrible mistakes was kept alive in her culture by being passed along from one generation to the next, by carefully teaching only to those who showed aptitude for such stewardship.
Contrary to the contemporary notion that before the advent of modern medicine no one lived past the age of 40, it was not unusual for indigenous tribes to have Elders who lived into their 60s, 70s, 80s or even longer - take a look sometime at the photos of Indian Elders that were taken in the late 1800s.
It was noticed that a person blessed with a long life would actually move through each of these generational stages - entering the circle as a great-grandchild would come around to be completed as the experience of being a great-grandparent before exiting it to become an ancestor - and by the way ancestors and the unborn were also included in tribal decision making processes.
As a result of this noticing, a core tenant and competency of life in the indigenous world was that any decision which might impact the lives of The People would be looked at and considered from the perspectives of each of the Seven Generations Who Walk Through Time - the very old, the very young, those in the middle, those who had passed from this world, those who were waiting to come in, and of the world itself - for the world is infused with the energy of aliveness.
It seems to me this is an incredibly valuable piece of wisdom and one worthy of deep reflection and repeated inquiry. For me it generates the following questions:
- What changes in our daily lives when we start to ask questions about how this decision or that action impacts the very old or the very young?
- How do our individual and collective actions and practices honor those who have come before, upon whose shoulders we stand?
- And, how do they make way and prepare an hospitable space for those who will follow after, who will one day be standing upon our shoulders?
- What changes in our relationship to things like oil and plastic and nuclear waste when we think of what life will be like as a result of our actions today for the Seven Generations will will Walk the Earth 10,000 or even 100,000 years from now?
- What moves inside of us and inside of our families, our colleagues, our communities, and our governments, when we begin to ask questions about how we can effectively live up to and into our individual and collective responsibility for the care and stewardship of the ongoing presence of Seven Generations Walking Together Through Time?
- What is the road we are building now? Will it bear the weight of The Seven Generations?
- Can we really build a sustainable civilization without looking at the world through such a lens?
- How do these questions and ideas strike you?
- Does anything awaken in the reading of them?
- Does anything resist them?
- What might you do differently as a result of entertaining them?
- A version of this post appears on the blog Reflections on Collaborative Conversations by Ken Homer
Author Ken Homer is the founder of Collaborative Conversations: Include More Voices - Make Better Choices. He lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area designing conversations for groups small and large. More information can be found at www.collaborativeconversations.com
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