“Treat the earth well: it was not given to you by your parents, it was loaned to you by your children. We do not inherit the Earth from our Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children.”
Native American Proverb
Let’s consider the dynamics of this proverb. What do we do with the things we inherit? Sometimes, we take those inherited things and put them in safety deposit boxes or in museum like spaces in our homes to save them as cherished mementos of the past. As a kind of hybrid of the previous idea, sometimes we take them, adapt them for our current use, and incorporate them into our lives as both mementos and useful items. For example, we have a small telephone desk that was my grandparents that now sits in our foyer as a kind of entry way table. No one needs phone desks anymore. We carry our phones in our pockets and bags. Sometimes we liquidate our inherited items–that is, we sell them and take the cash and use it on other things. Sometimes we fight over inherited items because we think someone in the family is going to get away with a fortune or because we use the items to work out old grudges. Sometimes, we ignore inherited items, forget about them, and throw them away.
All of these behaviors demonstrate clinging. We cling to inherited items in one way or another, cherish them, use them, abuse them, and discard them (an interesting form of attachment all its own). They all have some form of fear involved: if I don’t do X with this inherited item, something Y will happen. They all assume a kind of power over: I own the inherited thing, and I have a right to manipulate it however I choose.
Now, consider what we do with things that we receive on loan. We accept the loaned things with a promise to return (mortgage, cash, copyright). We establish a trust between ourselves and others over the use of the loaned things. We agree to fair use and reasonable treatment of the loaned things. We know that we have a responsibility and a reckoning for how we do not hold in trust those things promised about the loaned things. We work with, hold, and live with the loaned things with an eye to the future. The future will come, and we will meet our obligations. If we default on the fiduciary responsibility, we lose and the other party has a right to exact a due from us. With loaned things, we know that we are connected in relationship to others.
The Earth. We did not inherit the Earth from our ancestors. We hold it in loan from our children. Really changes the perspective, doesn’t it?
We create a relationship of our choosing – hopefully it is one that we can live with – and have something to give away for someone else to cherish when we are done.