How the Heirloom Project Could Help Heal America’s Political Brokenness

The Heirloom – defined as something that is passed forward to future generations for them to experience as “something of value” — is a way of creating positive bonds across the generations.

Those positive bonds matter for the present generation:

  • Both backward, involving respect and appreciation for the Ancestors, to whom the Heirloom from the past harkens back;
  • And forward, if one decides to take up the Heirloom Project’s invitation to create an Heirloom, as an expression of love and caring for the Descendants.

In addition to these private and familial benefits, it turns out that, besides offering that, the Heirloom Project also has the potential of helping this nation address the dangerous brokenness now besetting the American political system.

The ugly forces at work in American politics demonstrate how profoundly broken is the current state of those bonds across generations:

  • No one who respected Ancestors could ever deal with our Constitutional Order — the Gift from our Founders – in the unprecedented ways that one of America’s two major political parties has repeatedly been doing;
  • And no one who felt loving care for the Descendants would ever do the bidding of greedy fossil fuel companies – as that same Party has consistently done – willing to inflict possibly great suffering on our Descendants just for their own short-term profit.

Heirloom thinking helps fortify positive bonds in both directions:

  • appreciating Valued Ancestors should tend to fortify respect for the constitutional tradition to which we are heirs;
  • and loving concern for the Descendants should move our thinking in the direction of that of the Iroquois, who are said to have required themselves to ask — of each major decision they made – “How would this impact the generations to come, all the way to the 7th Generation?”

That we as a nation give too little concern for the well-being of coming generations should be obvious. Even apart from the scandal of our inaction on climate change over the past 30 years – in which the force of corporate greed has proved stronger than any dedication to protecting the well-being of coming generations — the signs of our indifference are blatant:

Consider the question, “What kind of world are we going to leave to our children, and their children?”

Isn’t it shocking how little this question is asked?

(Especially shocking in view of it looking presently like a toss-up whether the human project will culminate in our getting our act together, or in catastrophe! As if it were safe to simply back into the future.)

Isn’t that – the world we leave to our Descendants – the Ultimate Heirloom?

Clearly, we need more “Heirloom Thinking,” because, clearly, Heirloom Thinking is vital to the wholeness of society.

There’s a famous proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.

The need is not just for Heirloom Thinking, but also for Heirloom Feeling:

For old people to plant trees from which they know they’ll never derive any benefit, it takes a heart-felt feeling to provide the motivation. Only if these “old men” care enough for their Descendants, will they be motivated to do the strenuous work required to plant the trees whose shade future generations – but not they themselves – will enjoy.

The political impact of people’s accepting the Heirloom Project’s invitation to create an Heirloom for their family might come from two levels: 1) by fortifying Heirloom Thinking and Feeling within families, and 2) by people coming together to create a collective Movement.

1) Wholeness in our family relationships matters – even at the collective, political level — more than one might imagine. The human relationship is at the heart of how the human world works because it is at the heart of how we work.

That’s our nature, having been built into us because human relationship was central to how we survived in small societies (of a few dozen people) during the countless millennia we were becoming the kinds of creatures we are. It is the state of relationships that sets the tone for how people’s lives will feel.

So even as individuals – thinking only of their own creations for their own Descendants – pursue their particular Heirloom-creating projects, they are building positive bonds across generations. And strengthening those bonds is one important dimension of transforming America into a society whose political system makes things more whole, not more broken.

2) The Heirloom Project could be something – like Bridge, or pottery, or singing – that people take up. And, from the responses I’ve heard so far, there seems to be a chance that this Heirloom Project idea could be one of those things that catch on and become widespread.

To the extent that happens, the Heirloom Creation Project could conceivably become a vehicle for more direct political impact. Some people – even as they are tackling their own creative challenge, and fortifying the bonds of their own families – could come together to raise issues of Heirloom Thinking and Feeling in our national conversation.

Out of their developing concern for their own Descendants, for example, people could work to make more salient that crucial question about that Ultimate Heirloom: “What kind of world are we going to leave to our children, and their children?”

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