by Susan V. Bosak, MA
Social Researcher & Educator
Tick-tick tick-tick tick-tick…
We help people with time – lifetimes across generations.
Drawing on multidisciplinary research, the Legacy Project develops strategic social innovations for inspired lives for all generations in smart and caring communities on a tiny blue dot.
What time is it?
Time to get up or get going? Time to be a parent, grandparent, great-grandparent? Time to get plugged into the newest technology before you get left behind the times? Or time to move toward what master storytellers call a new Grand Narrative of 7-Generations.
We all live our own story. But too often we get stuck in little stories that fail to sustain us or effect real change. The Legacy Project's work is about a bigger story. We're working to interconnect the dots of economic, ecological, physical and social health in the big-picture context of lifetimes across generations…
It's About Time
As a global community, we're facing big challenges. And it's all connected.
From climate change and economic meltdown to increasing mental health issues and declining social cohesion, the challenges affect all generations now and into the future. If we're to find our way through the challenges, while taking advantage of the opportunities that also exist, we need to think and act bigger. We're stuck in 20th Century thinking in a 21st Century world – our challenges too big, our thinking and action too small.
Our understanding and experience of time is a key factor. It's a significant part of our personal development, as well as our relationships with others and with the world. It fundamentally influences how we think and act, individually and collectively.
Helping children understand time and their place in it is to teach them an important life lesson. They need to know how to tell time, how to be on time, how to manage time to get their homework done on time. So, they need a sense of daily time. They also need a sense of their LIFEtime. They need to think about the life ahead of them to make choices.
As adults, life success has a lot to do with time; successful athletes, entrepreneurs, leaders, and others put in time to become successful. There's balancing the time we put into work with the time we share with the important people in our lives. We also make decisions that affect not only our future, but the future of our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and beyond. As we get older, we become a model of time lived. We also tend to become more attuned to the natural rhythms of time as we move through sunrises to sunsets, springs to winters. Then, there's all the time that has come before us and all that will come after us – past, present, and future.
Our times are changing – rapidly. Just ask your grandmother or great-grandfather. Our world has changed more in the last hundred years than it did in the previous thousand. We split the atom, probed the psyche, invented plastic, perfected airplanes and rockets, put a television and then a computer in homes around the globe, filled billions of pockets with mobile phones, and reinvented ideas about everything from logic and language to economics and the environment. We've changed the way we interact, travel, communicate, learn, work, organize our communities, create and distribute resources, and affect our planet.
Time is a central organizing feature in all of this and a part of all human activity. We've fundamentally changed our relationship with time.
The Clock Only Ticks
The Legacy Project helps people with time. We're an independent, nonideological research, education, and social innovation group. We're funded through grants and sales of books, workshops, and other resources. We work with children, youth, adults, elders, schools, organizations, and communities across the continent and around the globe.
This is not your grandma's legacy. We bring together three very different perspectives on time. The Legacy Project's core team includes a systems engineer, an economics grad, and a social reseacher/educator. As the educator, I'm the one who asks a lot of the big questions – like, is time something to be measured, optimized, or experienced?
My grandmother used to say that the clock only ticks. In other words, it's just a mechanical device that makes a noise as it moves to mark time. Whether or not we choose to let the clock rule us is up to us.
If we attend only to the clock, a clock that has in many ways been distorted, we get stuck in the McMoment.
The McMoment is a uniquely modern phenomenon created by the ways in which we've changed our understanding and experience of the speed and span of time.
The ancient Babylonians, in a tradition later adopted by the Greeks and by medieval Christendom, followed the concept of the Great Year, generally used to refer to a 36,000-year cycle, after which history was thought to repeat itself. The ancients had an ability to recognize and operate within a much bigger picture of time.
But as Maddy Harland, Founding Editor of acclaimed UK-based Permaculture Magazine points out, "We live in a world today that has lost the art of [understanding] time. The more 'developed' we become, the more harassed and 'time poor' our culture becomes. We have lost the long view, the understanding of sustainability over at least seven generations."
The modern world is complex and fast-paced. It's a 24/7 blur of successive short-timespan activities. We experience one superficial, disconnected McMoment after another.
The imperative of the McMoment keeps us in constrained, short-term thinking. On a societal level, it's not surprising that we can't solve the big problems like economic disparity and environmental degradation. On an individual level, research shows more people are feeling empty and alone despite more opportunities, material goods, and the world at our fingertips through the Internet.
My Life Time
My father's old mantle clock sits in my office.
My mother couldn't stand the ticking, so the clock was never used when I was a child. But I found it tucked away on a closet shelf when I was packing up our old family home. I wound it up with the old clock key, and it now sits beside me happily ticking through my days.
Sometimes I don't hear the clock ticking at all. Sometimes, it's a steady reminder that every moment counts. And other times it's so loud that I'm tempted to pull out the hammer. That's when I neglect to wind it.
That clock connects me to both the time of day and the time of my life. It reminds me of both my father and mother. My father passed away in 2010. My mother now has dementia. A classic test for dementia is drawing the hands on a clock. My mother can no longer do that – and so she's free from the ticking of the clock.
I'm my mother's primary caregiver. I call her my Time Teacher, because every day she helps me experience time, and what really matters, in a whole new way. She's lost the ability to use language, so we communicate through hugs. Maybe we should all tell time not by the ticking of the clock, but by heartbeats and hugs?
Or what about the stars? When my mother is most upset at night, we look up into the stars and it calms her. When I was little and was sick or couldn't sleep, my mother would take me to the window to make wishes on stars. She loves the stars.
I asked my mother once a few years ago why she loves the stars so much. She thought about the question and, as someone who had always hated being only a little taller than five feet, said "Because the stars make me feel big."
We need to be bigger.
In a McMoment culture, we need to find ways to connect with bigger time, with a long-term view. It will help us make decisions in a wiser context – and maintain our collective sanity.
The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. The former refers to chronological or sequential time, while the latter refers to a fertile moment of indeterminate time in which something special happens. It's as if time both stands still and is endless.
I wanted to communicate that sense of bigger time in a way that was so simple even a child could understand it. So, I spent five years with an international team to write the book Dream – and dedicated it to my mother.
A 7-Generation Narrative
American paleontologist, biologist, and science historian Stephen Jay Gould asked, "What are we missing in trying to read this world by the inappropriate scale of our small bodies and minuscule lifetimes?"
To take on the personal and collective challenges of the 21st century, we need a bigger story that prompts bigger, better thinking. Big-picture, long-term thinking is difficult and rare. We need to make it more accessible and commonplace, to counterbalance the McMoment.
We need a new way to interconnect the dots of economic, ecological, physical and social health now and into the future.
The Legacy Project has three banner programs, reflecting the three levels at which you develop your legacy through your lifetime: LifeDreams to develop personal potential and create your life; Across Generations to connect with others, particularly between generations; and Our World to help each of us work to change the world to address issues like building stronger communities and caring for the environment. Create, connect, change.
Over two decades, we've brought together research
in areas ranging from community building, lifelong learning, and demographics to systems design, economic value structures, and sustainable development.
Drawing on this multidisciplinary research to make interconnections, we use an intergenerational approach to big-picture problem solving. The intergenerational connections are valuable in themselves; more importantly, they're a means to a much bigger end – a catalyst for larger systems change. In a highly age-segregated society, if we can meaningfully reconnect generations in lived, everyday experience, then we'll naturally and more easily access a bigger perspective on time. Further, research also shows that bringing generations together can also bridge gender, racial, socioeconomic, and ideological divides.
Increases in longevity are causing a historic demographic shift. Where once we may have personally known two or three generations in our family and community, we can now have relationships with at least seven generations – our own; parents, grandparents, great-grandparents; children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren.
This enables us to use an ancient Aboriginal concept in the context of a powerful modern opportunity. That's the 7-Generation narrative we're building through the YOU 177 initiative.
Your Legacy Across Time
It was naturalist John Muir who said, "The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness."
The physical and conceptual center of the Legacy Project is the Legacy Center in a 15-acre arboretum. We use the trees in the arboretum as metaphors to tell big stories.
I learned something very interesting from a prominent ecologist as we walked the Legacy Center arboretum together. Where do you think it's best to plant a young tree: a clearing in an old-growth forest or an open field? Apparently, the young tree grows better when it's planted in an area with older trees. The reason, it seems, is that the roots of the young tree are able to follow the pathways created by former trees and implant themselves more deeply. Over time, the roots of many trees may actually graft themselves to one another, creating an intricate, interdependent foundation hidden under the ground. In this way, stronger trees share resources with weaker ones so that the whole forest becomes healthier.
That's legacy: an interconnection across time, with a need for those who have come before us and a responsibility to those who come after us. Legacy takes time and makes it personal and bigger. Your life multiplied by time equals legacy. What will last?
Legacy at its worst is a burden across time; at its best, it is a gift.
Legacy is a rich concept that speaks to time both in terms of the individual and the collective. Legacy unites ego and altruism. It encapsulates the dichotomy between "If I'm not for myself, who will be?" and "If I'm only for myself, what am I?"
As we look to interconnections for economic, ecological, physical and social health, any far-reaching change has to speak to the ego. While it's true that when taken to extremes the ego becomes selfish, it's a necessary part of survival. In a plane emergency, you're told to put on your oxygen mask first before helping those around you. We all have this sense of self-importance, a need to feel like some part of ourselves is valuable enough to become immortal. But in pursuing that very need, we come to realize we can't do it alone. In order for some part of us to live on – our genes, creations, ideas, values, hopes – we have to instill it in the hearts and minds of others. We need others across generations. So me and we come together in a way that acknowledges the fundamental uncertainty of life and the immenseness of eternity.
Generations need each other; they make each other bigger. That's the seed of the 7-Generation concept – for inspired lives in smart and caring communities on a tiny blue dot.