More Than Money
Issue #39
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Money and Children

Table of Contents

“Babysitting the Great-Great-Great- Grandchildren”

Personal Stories

By Sera Thompson

Sera Thompson has lived and worked in Canada, the United States, and Southern Africa. Her work has been in environmental conservation, community development, and individual transformation. She was raised in Shambhala, an international community of meditation centers based on Tibetan Buddhism.

One evening when I was in college, a friend asked me to take her babysitting job for her. I said yes, little realizing that I would soon be entering into another world. After ringing the doorbell to the children's house, I had a brief but meaningful conversation with their parents. I enjoyed getting the parents' perspective on the challenges of juggling career and family. The mother and father were relaxed and kind, settled into their life in a way that most of my young friends, searching to find their place in the world, were not.

After they left, I enjoyed a pre-bedtime conversation with two remarkable people. The 5- and 7-year-old boys played Legos with me and spoke about dinosaurs and tractors. It was fun for me to play again; I got to travel to an enchanted land where rivers and trees appeared just by speaking of them.

At the end of the night, I walked home through a snowy street and felt blessed. The experience brought me a stark awareness of how age-homogeneous my life had become. I realized that I spent time only with other young university students and that I was deficient in relationships with children and elders. I saw that to experience the fullness of life, I needed to have those relationships.

I've recently come to this same understanding through my work, but with even broader implications. I help coordinate Pioneers of Change, a global network of young adults (ages 25-35) who are trying to foster a better world. It is a learning community of individuals living in more than 70 different countries. We share experiences and learn together about how social change happens and what it means to start with ourselves.

In my work, I think often about a wellknown Iroquois saying: "In our every deliberation we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations." To me, those words invite us to expand our intergenerational friendships even beyond our own lifetimes.

Recently, I was able to explore some of these ideas in a series of two intergenerational dialogues (in Halifax, Canada and Boston), which Pioneers of Change helped to host. The participants were aged 14 to 86.

We began with everyone arranged by age in a big circle, with the youngest and the eldest sitting next to each other. As I looked around the circle, I sensed my own place in the cycle of human life. It was like seeing a map of the life journey. I remembered what it was like to be a teenager, to be brave and naïve enough to say exactly what I thought. From others in the group, I learned some of the dilemmas and questions that emerge for people at mid-life- questions about how to use the understanding and stature they have gained in order to make a difference. I listened to the gentle stories of a grandfather, no longer preoccupied with the rush of working life, and with still so much humor and wisdom to share.

Central to our conversation was always the question of action. When we really think about what is meaningful to us, and see ourselves as part of a greater whole, we naturally ask ourselves, what should we do with our lives?

In response to the challenge posed to the group, "What question, if asked here, would send ripples through this group, the entire conference, and even the world?" people asked the big questions, while grounding them in the practicalities of their own lives. We talked about how to approach work as a meaningful activity, about creating opportunities in our spheres of influence for new approaches, about learning to embrace dissonance and change. We discussed the importance of finding mentors (both older and younger) and the primacy of our individual roles in building sustainable societies.

In the circle, the imminence of my own death was palpable, and I thought about how short and precious our lives are. I saw myself flowing in a continuous stream and knowing that the current is picking up speed. I saw the future coming fast and felt a genuine and pressing concern about the world I am leaving to children who are not yet born. I could almost see their faces, trailing off into the leading edge of our circle. At the same time, I was pointed to the wisdom of the ancestors. They were present too, and the wisdom of human beings who have been living on this planet for ages seemed to become available.

The intergenerational dialogues took me to a new level in my understanding of the ancient advice to consider the next seven generations in our decision making. In the past, I have had a conceptual, and perhaps romantic, notion of stewardship. Now, my responsibility to the future feels concrete and absolute; it's something I feel in my heart and know in my bones.

I admit that my actions in the world are still not always aligned with that understanding. However, this awareness itself provides a motivation for me to think carefully about how I spend my resources and my time. I strive to help build cultures that operate from an underlying premise of long-term sustainability and to make my daily choices on behalf of the generations of children still to come. It's kind of like babysitting for our great-great-great-grandchildren.

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