I had an inheritance from my father,
It was the moon and the sun.
And though I roam all over the world,
The spending of it’s never done.”
― Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bell Tolls
Sometimes I bribe my kids in an unusual and on closer thought, maybe even in a slightly disturbing way.
The conversation usually goes something like this:
In our house, everyone washes their own dishes and all the kids take turns washing up the pots and pans.
When my dinner plate needs to be washed, I whisper to the closest kid, “Can you wash my plate? I will move you up on the Will.”
They roll their eyes, take my plate, and say, “Mom, you alwayssay that…but can you put me down for the Christmas quilt you made? My siblings would definitely fight over that.”
What will I leave behind? What will I pass down?
Sometimes it feels very tangible. I look at one daughter with curly hair and who, with back turned, looks exactly like me and who loves words like I do. Sometimes it is less tangible. Will they inherit my optimism and my sense of humour or my less favourable aspects of petulance and impatience?
Or is this a product of nurture and they are not prisoners to an inheritance they can’t refuse?
Evolution is an interesting topic in our house and in the class I teach. We talk about genetic traits that are inherited. You know, those fun physical ones like tongue rolling, a widow’s peak, and attached ear lobes.
We also talk about genetic expression in the new field of epigenetics. Can we use our thoughts and beliefs and actions to up-regulate or down-regulate certain genes? More specifically, can the lifestyle we choose completely change the biology of our body and therefore, what we pass down to our children?
Where does the power of culture come into play in adjusting our biology? We are re-adjusting the ways in which we live and interact with the earth after 10000 years of agrarian civilization. The impact on relationships, community, food choices, and resource dependence can’t be ignored. Limitations are dissolving and new and urgent questions emerge on what legacy will we currently leave for the next 100 years.
We have to begin understanding what matters to us and where we need to redefine and possibly confront long-standing concepts and structures that are perhaps obsolete and no longer serve us.
Part of my own evolution and changing beliefs are centered around success and its definition. Growing up as a child of immigrants, excellent performance in school, attending university, and getting a high-paying job were ingredients for a successful life. When I worked hard to accomplish all that, with a child in tow, and after almost losing or destroying every relationship in my life, I was at my most unhappiest.
I listened to a poignant On Being podcast Abraham Verghese and Denise Pope — How Do You Want to Be When You Grow Up? In this podcast, they challenge the pervasive cultural view of success that is tied to external rewards: money, power, celebrity. They highlight a broken education system that continues to promote this lie that achieving these external rewards will make you happy and that there is one path to get there. The research is clear. For many, the focus and pressure to get the grades to get into university do not lead to a lifetime love of learning or long-term happiness.
I want my children to inherit a feeling of success that only failure can give and only through a resilience of getting back up. To be already successful having the willingness to learn and to give and to connect. I want them to inherit a love for the world and a longing, as Mary Oliver says, to live this one wild and precious life.
- What do we want our children to inherit?
- What do you want to leave behind? Your legacy?
- How shall future generations inherit the earth?
- Draw something that you inherited or hope to.
- Copy poem below.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?