Autumn blessings, friends! This autumn I’ve been reflecting on what being a good ancestor means to me. I hope my musings give you something to ponder as you consider for yourself what it means to be an honorable ancestor.
What does it mean to be a good ancestor?
I think becoming a good ancestor is both a collective responsibility and a deeply personal quest. The very nature of leaving behind a kinder, healthier world for future generations involves all of us. No one gets to sit this task out! However, what we are called to do and who we are called to be in the specific time and place we find ourselves is a journey each must undertake for themselves.
Have you ever felt intimidated upon hearing the word economy? I don’t know about you, but for a long time the word economy brought to mind a Godzilla-like monster terrorizing the streets of my neighborhood. “Look out!” newscasters cried, “The economy is causing yet another collapsing business, dilapidated building, and further social unrest!” as we all scattered like ants to escape its wrath.
As silly as my little scenario may sound, it makes a lot of sense when we view the economy as something outside of ourselves. The truth is, as the Buddhist economist Kai Romhardt titled his book on the subject, we are the economy.
What is the economy?
The word economy actually means “the wealth or resources of a country or region that may include the production and consumption of goods and services.” Economic justice refers to the guiding moral principles that give structure to an economic system where all have the opportunity to thrive, especially those who have been marginalized by society due to factors such as race, class, and gender.
The economy expresses that which we value. Perhaps that is why it is such a sensitive topic for conversation. We all personally value different resources and we assign different values to those resources.
Here’s an example: I highly value good quality, fair trade coffee, However, I place little value on tea. Therefore, I don’t mind spending more of my financial resources on coffee and coffee-related products, but I tend to only purchase tea for medicinal purposes. You may feel quite differently. Were we to combine our resources, we would have to negotiate how much we devote to coffee and how much to tea?
As we negotiate, we are having a larger conversation than just “I like coffee” and “I like tea.” I may posit that we spend more on coffee because it tastes better and I enjoy increased energy levels. You may disagree about the taste and feel that tea is a healthier choice because it has less caffeine and you are concerned about caffeine addiction. Our conversation has moved beyond our morning beverage-of-choice, to what aspects of health we believe are most important.
I may argue that coffee is the way to go because this is America, not England, and Americans drink coffee. Coffee was good enough for my parents and their parents before them. Therefore, coffee is good enough for me.
You may roll your eyes and say that your family have always been tea-drinkers, and that my Irish ancestors probably were too! Thus, our conversation is now incorporating a sense of family and tribal loyalty!
As you can see, what began as a seemingly simple conversation about how to utilize our resources becomes more complex when we realize that economic conversations are about more than money. Conversations about economy are really about our collective values, of which money is one form of measurement.
What do you value?
When it comes to becoming good ancestors, it is important that we examine the ways we financially support that which we value, both personally and collectively. We may not agree on every aspect of how we use our financial resources, but most people can agree that we want the best for our children, grandchildren, and future generations. We want a sound economy to be part of our legacy.
A sound economy is a flexible economy. Economic success requires we adapt from generation to generation. To leave behind a sound economy means we adopt a long-term strategy. We consider not only what is best for our world today, but the impact our economic decisions have for the well-being of future generations.
To be a good ancestor means we go beyond concern for our own tribe or family when we determine how best to utilize our resources. Cultivating a just, sustainable economy asks us to go beyond using our power to purchase a good or service because it is a “good deal”. Rather, as mindful participants in the economy, we consider, “Who is this a good deal for?” Is it a good deal for the health of the environment we share? How about the workers whose labor brought this good or service to may doorstep? When it comes to making financial decisions, are we taken all of our values into consideration alongside the financial ones?
Getting to know the economy.
The first step to leaving future generations an economy we can be proud of is to examine our own relationship with the economy. Here are a few questions for reflection to help empower you to become an active, intentional participant in the economy:
What do you want your legacy to be? Identify five of your values and how those values might be economically symbolized. For example, I value supporting the wellbeing of women and girls. Therefore, I choose to support small local businesses owned by women.
Know where your money is going. Write down everything you spend for a week, how much you spend, and where you spend it. At the end of the week, review your spending habits. What surprised you about how you used your resources? Does how you spend your money reflect that which you value?
Consider the top five companies you purchase from. In an online search, find five things about the company that you didn’t know. Does what you learn about the company reflect your values?
Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Let’s face it. Not everyone can purchase organic food, fair trade items, or shop at local small businesses. Those of us who are in a financial position to do so can help drive down prices to make these options more accessible for everyone. If we are in a financially sensitive situation, perhaps we commit to supporting just one product or company that reflects our values.
Don’t forget about the many non-monetary ways we play a role in the economy! We can educate ourselves about our local, national, and global economy, volunteer to teach young people financial literacy, and involve our self in economic justice movements. All of these are ways of participating in the economy that help us create an economic legacy of which we can take pride!