Am I a good ancestor?
I read Tim Winton’s gripping novel The Shepherd’s Hut on a recent short holiday. As I like to do, I found an interview with Winton to help me into his story. It was at the Edinburgh Festival. During the interview, discussing planet earth, that can almost in novel’s like The Shepherd’s Hut become an extra character in his work, Winton used that line - Am I a good ancestor?
It is one of those lines that just drops so deep and lingers. It has such weight of wisdom that It might ripple out for the rest of my life.
‘Am I a good ancestor?’ is a question so rarely asked that when I posted it on social media my friend Gary asked if it shouldn’t read ‘Am I a good descendent?’ I understood. I have never considered this question. Yet, it might be one of the most important I ever ask.
We spend a lot of time thinking of our ancestors. Personally or even as nations. In Northern Ireland where I live we spend so much time talking and arguing and, God forgive us, killing over the past.
Most of our political decisions are affected by a love, near worship, of past events. There are many who would look to other culture’s and their ancestry worship as un-Christian, even uncivilised and yet… we have a form of it that paralyses our movement into the future. It is one of the few things that unites us all!
Is it a blind spot in the human psyche or a more deliberately evil force in the universe that prevents us from considering our descendants? I mean I love my own children and friends love their grand children in ways that we never loved even our own grandparents yet we do not live our lives in ways that leave a better world for them.
It almost seems that the question on the forefront of all our hearts and souls and minds should be ‘Am I a good ancestor?’ What we do cannot impact our ancestors at all. They are gone. All our daily decisions will impact our descendants and yet we are not considering it.
Is that because of the cost to ourselves? Is it a symptom of am inherent selfishness? If we concentrate on the past we don’t need to pay any price in the present. If we look forward and consider our legacy as ancestors we might have to rein it on.
That is indeed the case when we talk about the environment which was what provoked Winton’s line. If we want our children’s children to have a planet or not have to deal with apocalyptic conditions we are leaving behind then carbon emissions need drastically cut. That, however, would effect the size of our car, the number of holiday flights and even the amount of beef we eat or plastic we use in packaging.
Are we prepared to sacrifice our own comfort and luxury for our loved ones coming after us? I watch parents do so many things that they think will be for their children’s best. Leaving them a planet surely sits as the major priority.
Our own ancestors will certainly not judge us for what we have done after them. They are manure for daisies. Our descendants though? The quality of their lives will be decided on whether I am a good ancestor or not.