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We help people with time – lifetimes across generations.
The Legacy Project is an independent research, education, and social innovation group working to help create a new 7-Generation story for the wellbeing of lives, communities, and the planet.
Founded by researcher, educator, and big-picture thinker Susan V. Bosak, the Legacy Project is a millenium baby. It all started with an old clock…
As a global community, we're facing complex, wicked challenges.
From increasing mental health and declining social cohesion to climate change and economic inequity, the challenges affect all generations in the big-picture context of the Long Now – evolved from a past that has become our present that is shaping our future.
Our challenges are too big, our story 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 smartphones, 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.
This is not your grandma's legacy. We bring together three very different perspectives on time. The Legacy Project's core crew includes a systems engineer, an economics grad, and a social researcher/educator. We ask a lot of the big questions – like, is time something to be measured, optimized, or experienced?
Susan Bosak's grandmother (who inspired the bestseller A Little Something) 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 what Susan calls 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.
Susan's work is personal, as is the origin of the Legacy Project.
Her father was an architect, and Susan remembers playing in his office as a child. Now her father's old mantle clock sits in Susan's office.
Her mother couldn't stand the ticking, so the clock was never used when she was a child. But Susan found it tucked away on a closet shelf when she was packing up her old family home on New Year's Eve at the turn of the millennium – a moment of both personal and historical significance.
Susan wound up the clock with the old clock key, it rang in the year 2000, and it now sits beside her happily ticking through her days.
Sometimes she doesn'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 she's tempted to pull out the hammer. That's when she neglects to wind it.
That clock connects Susan to both the time of day and the time of her life. It reminds her of both her father and her mother.
Her mother had dementia. A classic test for dementia is drawing the hands on a clock. Susan's mother could no longer do that – and so she was free from the ticking of the clock. Susan called her mother her Time Teacher. Susan was her caregiver for twelve years. Every one of those days, Susan's mother helped her experience time, and what really matters, in a whole new way.
As a living embodiment of her mother's legacy, the big question Susan asks in her work is: how do I honour what I've learned? What's worth living for and dying for, in what we do and how we do it every day, day to day, year into year, generation over generation?
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. As a way to communicate that bigger feeling of time, Susan spent five years working with an international team to create the book Dream – and dedicated it to her mother.
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 this moment in history, 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.
Over two decades, we've brought together research in areas ranging from community building, lifelong learning, and demographics to systems complexity, economic value structures, and sustainable development.
Drawing on this multidisciplinary research to make interconnections, we use an intergenerational approach. 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; three before us (parents, grandparents, great-grandparents); and three after us (children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren).
This enables us to use an Indigenous concept in the context of a powerful modern opportunity. That's the 7-Generation narrative we're building.
It was naturalist John Muir who said, "The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness."
The physical place of the Legacy Project is The Cedars.
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 and what will it mean?
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?"
Generations need each other; they make each other bigger. And legacy across generations is where the power is – your life story in the context of lives/life on the planet in the even bigger context of lifetimes across generations.
Y/our legacy, the things you/we do and say and think and aspire to every day, is creating the future right now. We don't take that power, that responsibility, seriously enough. Me and we come together in a way that acknowledges the fundamental uncertainty and possibility of life, and the immenseness of eternity.
That's the seed of the Legacy Project's work and why we do what we do every day.
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