An ancient Chinese parable is told of Yu Gong, a 90-year-old man whose travels to and from his home were inconvenienced by two large nearby mountains.
One day Yu Gong said to his family, “These mountains are too inconvenient. Why not get rid of them?”
His son and grandson responded, “What you say is true. We shall start moving them tomorrow.”
The next day, they began moving the mountain, carrying stones into the sea.
They worked nonstop through summer and winter, rain and snow.
Observing their work, a man said, “Yu Gong, you are so old. Do you really think it is possible to move the mountains?”
Yu Gong responded, “When me and my sons die, my grandchildren will continue, and so on through generation after generation. We will move the stones every day and we will move these mountains.”
In The Silent Language, Edward Hall writes,
“The future to us is the foreseeable future, not the future of the Asian that may involve centuries…Anyone who has worked in industry or in the government of the United States has heard the following: ‘Gentlemen, this is for the long term! Five or ten years.’ …The Asian, however, feels that it is perfectly realistic to think of a long time in terms of thousands of years or even an endless period…”
Consider that China’s personal savings rate is 38 percent — compared to America’s 3.9 percent.
Generational thinking is a foreign concept to a quick-fix, instant-gratification society fat on fast food, corroded by credit, drowning in the pervasive message that you can have it all and you can have it now.
Our national prosperity has come with consequences. Americans today have confused comfort and convenience with true wealth and lasting impact. Our time horizon has been reduced to looking forward to paychecks, weekends, and vacations.
We have largely forgotten how — and why — to leave a legacy. Instead, we leave liabilities.
As Wall Street Journal columnist Peggy Noonan wrote,
“People are freshly aware and concerned about the real-world implications of a $1.6 trillion dollar deficit, of a $14 trillion debt. It will rob America of its economic power, and eventually even of its ability to defend itself…And there are the moral implications of the debt…: The old vote themselves benefits that their children will have to pay for. What kind of a people do that?”
The kind of people, Peggy, who value their privileges above their principles, to paraphrase Dwight D. Eisenhower. And because we ignore our principles, we are rapidly losing our privileges, just as Eisenhower warned.
The majority of Americans must learn what the Chinese know, as well as what the minority of wealthy Americans know.
Banfield set out to discover why certain people become financially independent and others do not. His assumption was that the answer would be found in factors such as family background, education, intelligence, influential contacts, or other similar factors.
He discovered instead a particular mindset shared by the wealthiest, most successful individuals.
He called this mindset a “long time perspective.” The most successful individuals, he found, considered the future with every decision. The study showed that the longer the time horizon a person considered while planning and acting, the more likely he or she would be to succeed, financially and otherwise.
“Wealthy people routinely plant seeds that won’t bear fruit for months or even years.”
So what seeds are we planting today that we intend to be harvested by future generations?
Are we planting legacy seeds, or liability seeds? Are we moving mountains for future generations, or juggling credit cards for personal pleasure?
Is our vision expansive enough to include future generations?
As Wes Jackson said,
“If your life’s work can be accomplished in your lifetime, you’re not thinking big enough.”