Generational change is a given in business, politics and life. In the early 1960s, President John Kennedy’s ascendency to the peak of government was a sign a new generation was in charge with new ideas and direction. The Kennedy administration fought for civil rights and gave America the vision of landing a man on the moon.
The Baby Boom generation (1946 to 1964) protested against the Vietnam War during the Johnson and Nixon administrations and eventually brought that decade long conflict to an end. Our nation’s youth have redirected errant policies for the better on several occasions over the past half century.
Several issues today have a similar ring: the gun control debate and climate change are two. Gun control will require extreme political and legal pressure and action at the voting booth. Climate change action will also require the same in addition to a common national vision, much like Kennedy’s moon landing vision. Both seem intractable at the moment, but generational changes are in the wind.
The recent Stoneham Douglas high school massacre has galvanized the youth of this nation to raise their voices against inaction of conservative politicians following every mass shooting where military-grade weapons were used. The politician’s addiction to NRA campaign contributions seem to be a major factor in this inaction. The nation’s youth are also leading several lawsuits against the Trump administration for depriving them of their future constitutional rights by it dangerous energy and climate policies.
Again, our youth are being called upon to save our nation from continuing on an unsustainable path. This time a path that’s piling up massive government debt, supporting an obscene gun culture, maintaining perpetual warfare around the world and encouraging an intolerable abuse of our planet. The Baby Boom generation is failing miserably in their sacred responsibility to pass on a better world to their children. The children have noticed their default and are rising.
What do some faith traditions have to say about the state of the world and leaving our children a better place than we received? The first that comes to mind is the Native American Seventh Generation principle. Chief Seattle was credited by some with the saying “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children,” although many famous conservationists (Wendell Berry, Ralph Waldo Emerson, David Brower and Lester Brown) have also used it prolifically.
The Native American Seventh Generation principle created in the 12th century is embraced by Native Americans and is codified in the Iroquois Great Law of Peace. It states that every decision must consider its impact on descendants seven generations in the future. The Lakota Nation considers a generation to equal 100 years, while in Western society a generation is 25 years.
In Christianity, Adam is commanded “to serve and preserve” the ground of the garden (Genesis 2:15). Protestant reformer John Calvin’s commentary on the Genesis verse stresses stewardship. “Let him who possesses a field so partake of its yearly fruits that he may not suffer the ground to be injured by his negligence; but let him endeavor to hand it down to posterity as he received it…” Creation care is the basis of the growing ecotheology movement of many of today’s faiths. Teaching the children is critical for sustaining the planet.
At this time, it seems nothing in government is going to change enough to drastically reduce military-grade weapons in this country or for the US to take a leadership role in the next industrial revolution to lessen global climate disruption. That is, unless our youth, women, minorities and others make changes through the ballot box and elect representation that actually reflects public interests as opposed to corporate interests. Basically, the same groups that rose to protest and change errant government policy in earlier troubled times.
The US has the opportunity to create a safer place for our children, but leadership is sorely lacking. Today, change interferes with existing business models and is slowed through gerrymandering and unlimited campaign contributions set loose by the 2010 US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision. That situation may be about to change as younger generations come of age and have a new set of ideas for managing their future on the planet we borrowed from them. Our youth are heeding the call, again.