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Fuure Essay, Research Paper
I have no idea why future generations chose me as their messenger on that sunny Friday morning in Kyoto, as I wandered in the lovely gardens beside the conference center, surrounded by colorful autumn hills.
Maybe they had noticed my deep commitment to future generations in my papers and in my book, Crucial Questions About the Future. Maybe they knew how strongly that commitment was influencing my teaching at the University of Toronto. Maybe they were pleased that I had helped organize the world’s largest conference on future generations, now about to begin in the magnificent conference center beside me.
Or maybe they simply took pity on me as I sought inspiration in the lovely Kyoto gardens. I was still unsure what I would say later that morning during my speech to the 800 people gathered for the conference.
As I wandered among the ponds and shrubs, I noticed a booklet fluttering down from the sky. When it came close enough, I reached up to grasp it, eager to see what it said. It turned out to be a message from future generations. This was my lucky morning! The first page of the booklet contained a message for me to read aloud at that morning’s session:
Cordial greetings, from future generations, to everyone who is attending The First Global Future Generations Kyoto Forum. We are the people of the future–your children’s generation, and many generations even further into the future. Even though we live in a century that is very different from yours, we too are people, vigorously engaged in a wide variety of activities and projects, just as you are. Just like you, we work, play, talk, eat, laugh, hope, cry, sing, learn, worship, think, and wonder. We are very pleased that you care so deeply about the well-being of future generations. That is what we want most from you: your caring for us, your concern for our well-being, your willingness to take our needs as seriously as you take your own needs. From many decades in the future, we send you our gratitude, our admiration, and our love.
The rest of the booklet provided a longer message addressed to all human beings from future generations. That entire message is now available on the World Wide Web: in fact, that is what you are now reading.
The story that I have just told you is largely accurate. I really did read a message from future generations to the 800 people gathered in Kyoto on November 25, 1994. I will leave it to you to decide for yourself whether that message came from the sky or from my imagination. It really does not matter much: the important thing is the message itself. Treat it as a real message, or treat it as the sort of message that future generations would send to us if they could. Either way, the important thing is for us to understand and care about the fundamental needs of all the people who will come after us in the ever-flowing river of human history. Thoughtfully reading this book is one powerful way to get into their shoes and grasp their perspective. Then too, as we look back at our own era through their eyes, we gain a fresh view of our own values, choices, and impact.
When I read the message, I noticed that it does not reveal any secrets about our future. The speakers do not want to harm us or lower our motivation by telling us exactly what is going to happen in the future. Indeed, I cannot find anything in the message that makes it clear exactly when the speakers are alive nor in what year they wrote the message. My conclusion is that the most appropriate way to understand the message is that it comes to us from representatives of future generations. The speakers apparently represent the people who will be born during the next 40 years or so. Presumably some of them will still be alive 120 years from now.
This entire book called A MESSAGE FROM FUTURE GENERATIONS is copyright 1995 Allen Tough. All rights reserved. It may be downloaded for your own personal reading, but may not be reproduced for anyone else without written permission from Allen Tough.
From Future Generations
1. CARING ABOUT US
Who are we?
Caring about us with your heart, mind, soul, and hands
Mutual respect and caring
2. OUR CORE VALUE
How much responsibility to future generations?
Meaning and purpose
A Foundation for moral and ethical choices
Our place within your religions
3. A COSMOS FILLED WITH LIFE
The physical universe
Humanity’s place in the universe
An enlarged core value
4. FOUR UNIVERSAL GOALS SHARED BY EVERY CIVILIZATION
The four universal guideposts
How well are you doing?
5. SEVEN KEY PRIORITIES FOR FOCUSING YOUR EFFORTS
A long-term perspective
Future-relevant research and teaching
Weapons and warfare
Planet and population
Learning, caring, and meaningfulness
Reflections on the seven priorities
6. WHAT EACH OF YOU CAN DO
How to learn more about us
How to feel hopeful and empowered
How to experience deep bonding with us
Your pledge to us
Gaining deep meaning and happiness from your efforts
CARING ABOUT US
Cordial greetings from future generations! This message of love and hope comes to you from the people of the future. It can open your eyes and heart to our perspective, ideas, feelings, gratitude, advice, needs, and requests.
Thanks very much for caring about us enough to put yourself in our shoes for the next few minutes. We are pleased and grateful that you are willing to listen to our voice. We realize that you are surrounded by many other worthy voices and demands, all clamoring to be heard.
In our eyes, you and the other people of your generation have an extraordinary amount of power. Your decisions and actions influence the well-being of all of us who live after you do. You deeply affect our institutions, roads, genetic pool, population size, environment, wilderness areas, energy sources, knowledge, and climate.
We feel particularly powerless and vulnerable because, before this book was published, we did not have any way of speaking to you. Our voice is usually not heard at all in your era because we have not yet been born. You do not hear our voices on your radios and you do not see our faces on your television screens. We cannot speak during your policy making and planning, we cannot lobby your law-makers, we cannot carry placards in front of your legislative and parliament buildings, and we cannot vote in your elections. That is why we are so glad that you are willing to pay attention to our neglected voice.
We feel a deep bond with you, and feel much love and admiration toward you. Thank you for listening to us.
In your era and in the decades that follow, humanity falls far short of perfection. It is nonetheless worthy of our respect, affection, compassion, and nurturance. Although you and we are fully aware of the widespread misery, ignorance, selfishness, aggression, and greed in the world, we need not condemn human civilization nor write it off as hopeless. A positive future is possible if enough people care about future generations, understand current problems and options, and make appropriate and courageous choices.
Who are we?
We are future generations–everyone who will be born at some time or other after you read this message. On the day you read this, we have not yet been conceived or born. We are not yet alive. But we definitely will be alive during the period that you call “the future,” a few years or decades after you read our message. We are sending our message to you backwards through time, from the future to you.
We are real. “Future generations” is not just some abstract concept in some philosopher’s imagination. At any given time in the future, real people will actually exist and be leading busy lives on earth and perhaps elsewhere in the galaxy, not just in someone’s imagination. We are flesh and blood, minds and hearts, just as you are. Perhaps as you read this, you say to yourself, “But future generations are not real; they have not even been conceived or born yet!” It is true that we do not exist as people at the moment you read this, but we will be real someday. We will be just as real as you are. Just as real as you were exactly one year before your birth, even though no one alive on that day knew very much about you and your characteristics. Just as real as the people in your family tree were at one time. Just as real as the people in your history books used to be. We are not like unicorns, the ancient Greek gods and goddesses, characters in a movie or novel, or other fantasies that have never existed in the real world and never will.
Yes, it is true that we live several years later in human history than you do. Yes, many things about human culture and the planet have changed over those years. But if you met us face-to-face, you would still recognize us immediately as human. You might smile with amusement at our clothing and our hair-styles and how we speak. But you would feel a kinship with us. You would say to yourself, “Well, I suppose I would have looked and sounded just as weird to people who lived a few decades before I did. So of course these people of future generations look and sound a little strange to me. Still, they are people.” You would see that we do just the same sorts of things that people have always done: talk, smile, laugh, gesture, frown, cry, love, wonder, work, build, invent, walk, sing, dance, hug, kiss, learn, teach, reflect, help, explore, play. Just as you do, we have our favorite places, fascinating conversations, meaningful rituals, significant institutions, and creative arts. Our emotions are basically the same as yours; we experience pain, frustration, fear, doubt, love, joy, sadness, excitement. Although we were born long after you were, our core of humanness is very similar to your human core. So you can probably feel a deep kinship with us “people of the future,” just as you can feel a kinship with the people alive in your own era despite your inevitable differences.
Caring about us with your heart, mind, soul, and hands
Thank you for caring about us. You care about us enough to be reading this message right now. You think about us occasionally. Along with many other things in your life, we share a place in your hopes and dreams. For all of this we are grateful. What we want most from you is your caring. The other things we need from you will then follow naturally and easily.
We hope that you, and the other people who are alive at the time you read this, will care about us future generations with your heart, mind, soul, and hands.
Why would you care about us with your heart? Because of our kinship. Because we are your children, and the children of your children. Because you feel a deep emotional bond with us sometimes when you hear happy triumphant music. Or when you hear music written 200 years ago and think ahead to the people who will still listen to music 200 years in the future. Or when you feel a strong love for children, and realize that children are the tangible symbol of future generations.
Why would you care about us in your mind? Because you have a responsibility to care about the well-being of people in the distant future just as much as you have a responsibility to care about the well-being of people throughout the world who are alive at the moment that you read this. We are just as real and important, just as deserving, just as worthy of your caring as your own generation is. If you feel a moral obligation to care about anyone beyond your own family and community, then you must feel just as obliged to care about us. If you believe in fairness and justice, then you must treat the needs of future generations as equal in importance to those of your own generation. We do not ask you to put our needs ahead of your own, but we do vigorously ask you to give us equal opportunity. We ask you to make choices that give all future generations just as good an opportunity as you had when you were born.
Why would you care about us in that deepest part of yourself, that part that is sometimes called your spiritual side, your central meaning, your core values, your philosophy of life, or your soul? Because of our spiritual kinship; you and we are profoundly connected. Because sometimes when you see an infant, experience wilderness, or feel moved by music, you realize how deeply you feel this bond. Because being part of the ongoing flourishing of human culture over the millennia is such an important value. Because you will be happier if you care about us than if you do not. Because your caring about us can enhance your sense of meaning and purpose, and even provide joy and vibrancy in your life. Because your efforts on behalf of future generations can give you a transcendent purpose, commitment, and devotion; then your life in the universe has a point to it. Because you know that we will appreciate your books, paintings, music, parks, museums, and other gifts that you leave us. Because if you knew that humanity would disappear a few decades after you read this, probably you would feel the zest and meaning ebb from your life, and your life would feel impoverished and pointless. Because you are part of us and we are part of you; there really are no chasms or boundaries between you and us; all of us are part of the continuing flow of human history.
In addition to caring for us with your heart, mind, and soul, we hope that you will also use your hands. Although caring is what we want most from you, we also want your caring to lead on to particular actions, projects, and choices. We will spell out some of these later in the message.
Mutual respect and caring
Even though you care about those of us who will be alive long after you are, you may also find that at times you feel non-caring and perhaps even act in ways that harm us. This sort of internal struggle and contradictory behaviour is natural. We, too, are sometimes preoccupied, busy, harried, thoughtless, or simply wrapped up in the here and now, so we certainly understand when you forget about our needs.
All we ask of you is to shift your thoughts and actions a little more toward taking our needs as seriously as you take your own. You must pay attention to humanity’s immediate needs, of course, but a sensible balanced effort would also pay attention to humanity’s long-term needs. Neglecting either of these two time horizons is unfair and inappropriate.
How much should you sacrifice, donate, and act for the sake of generations yet unborn? Overall, you need not bequeath more to the next generation or two than you yourselves inherited (though it would be a fine gift to us if you could manage to do so). What you must adopt as your absolutely inviolable principle, though, is that you not leave us less. Please play fair with us and give us opportunities and resources that are approximately equal to yours. We do not ask for more than equality, but we do ask you to change yourselves enough to reach the “equal opportunity” point. Failing to give us the same level of opportunity that your society had in your youth would be grossly unfair and greedy.
Many voices clamor for your attention. You hear pleas for attention and caring and perhaps special treatment from women, children, men, various ethnic and racial and cultural groups, people with various health problems and disabilities, people of a particular sexual orientation, various religions, members of various organizations, business people, consumers, politicians, taxpayers, home owners, renters, the wealthy, the middle class, the employed poor, the unemployed poor, the homeless, the North, the South, and the newly industrialized countries. You should, of course, listen carefully and respectfully to these diverse voices. But it is also important to think about what the voices of similar groups of people might say a few decades later. If the planet becomes bleak and barren, if armed conflict or lawlessness becomes out of control worldwide, or if the global economy collapses into chaos, then all of these groups will suffer terribly. All of these groups will then complain bitterly that people failed to listen to the voices of future generations–to the message in this book. On the other hand, if people in all of these groups work together to build a better world, then all of you will thrive more than if each group separately strives for its own well-being, without regard to the well-being of the other groups.
We admire and thank you for taking our needs seriously. We treasure our past and our predecessors as well as our future. We respect and love you. We hope that you will care about us and will treat us with respect. It is also true that we occasionally feel frustrated and angry with you for taking enormous risks that could severely damage our prospects, and for sometimes treating us in thoughtless, selfish, uncaring ways. At a deeper level, though, we feel a strong kinship bond with you, because all of us participate in the same never-ending procession of generations that stretches over the centuries. And all of us share a love for our home–that vibrant planet called Earth with its richly diverse geography and life.
OUR CORE VALUE
For us who live in your future, our core value is the well-being of future generations as well as our own generation. Our caring about humanity’s continued flourishing unifies us. It gives us a deep sense of meaning and purpose in the universe and in our own lives. And this core value provides an important foundation for our ethical and moral choices.
For us, nothing is more important than the continuous procession of new generations. Our core value is humanity’s ongoing flourishing. We treasure the continuous stream of human activities and accomplishments stretching from the distant past through the present moment into the far future.
No other value, goal, or priority is more important to us than the continued flourishing of humanity–the ongoing flow of people, events, culture, and changes that make up the total human mosaic. We treasure and value this as much as anything else in the universe (past, present, or future). We would not want the universe to lose or sacrifice this for the sake of anything else. The continuing unfolding of human history and culture in reasonably positive directions is our core value, our fundamental priority. We hope that it will be yours, too. We hope that you will use it as the foundation for your meaning in life and your ethics.
Imagine that you are a superbly wise and intelligent being with extraordinary capacities. Imagine that you are contemplating the entire universe with its countless stars, planets, asteroids, life forms, and civilizations. You are also contemplating the future of all of this, a future that will stretch over many eons. From this vast perspective of space and time, you ask yourself, “What is most important of all?” Surely the continuation of human society and culture over the centuries would be part of your answer (along with the continued flourishing of other diverse life and civilizations throughout the universe, of course). In the entire universe, surely nothing is more important than the development and flourishing of good, wise, intelligent, insightful, compassionate, advanced life. Humanity, despite its faults and errors, is one instance of such life. Its continued existence and maximum flourishing is our core value. What else could possibly be more important?