'Why you should think about being a good ancestor — and 3 ways to start doing it'

Bina Venkataraman


27 August 2019

Yes, we know it takes plenty of time and energy to be a good person in the here and now. But due to the major threats facing our society and planet, we need to consider our impact on future generations, too. Writer Bina Venkataraman explains why, and she tells us how we can start acting in ways that benefit those to come.

"We live in a culture that encourages instant gratification, amid markets that turn on quarterly profits. Yet many of us today long to think past the immediate moment, and we want our lives and work to have meaning over time, even beyond our own lifetimes. For societies, it’s never been more important to think ahead to future generations. We need to prepare for future threats — an even-warmer planet and growing inequality — and to invest in the future — to reinvigorate cities, protect the food supply and find cures for disease.

One myth that has pervaded public dialogue is that this kind of long-term concern for the future is not an inherent trait of humanity — that we as a species are hopelessly and irredeemably shortsighted. I think that view underestimates our potential and neglects our obligations; my TED Talk and book The Optimist’s Telescope are about the practices we can adopt to reclaim foresight in a reckless age.

So, how can we become better ancestors — both in our own lives and collectively in society? My efforts to answer that question took six years and brought me all over the world, from farms, fishing villages and VR labs to nuclear fallout zones, corporate boardrooms and stock exchanges. I’ve gleaned research from a wide range of fields, including evolutionary biology, land-use law, behavioral economics and archaeology, in order to understand what’s possible in our families and businesses — and to find out what’s most critical for the future of our communities and societies.

Here are three key insights I gained from my research..."

Read the rest of this article here. You can also access Bina Venkataraman's TEDTalk on the subject here.

Bina Venkataraman teaches in the department of science, technology & society at MIT and is the author of the book The Optimist’s Telescope. She served as senior advisor for climate change innovation in the Obama administration.

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