08/03/2011 12:34 pm ET Updated Oct 03, 2011

Are We Being Good Ancestors?

Looking out across the social, cultural, economic and political landscape of America today, I'm reminded of an observation made by Dr. Jonas Salk, polio vaccine pioneer, who said the most important question we can ask ourselves is, "Are we being good ancestors?"

At the individual level, considering the impact of your personal values and the choices that come from them, how are you setting up future generations in your personal lineage? What kind of context are you creating for those who come after you?

In a previous post, "Healing the Wounds of Your Ancestors," we discussed the possibility of how our choices can not only change the trajectory of future generations but can also heal the wounds of the past.

I'm revisiting this subject with an invitation to look beyond the personal and consider the impact of our collective choices, the ones we're right now in the process of making in this country. What are we putting in motion now, and what is the legacy those choices will leave behind for our great-great-grandchildren's children?

What will future generations have to say about the kind of people we were in the early years of the 21st century?

What will they say about how our lack of regard for the environment changed the very face of the planet they inherited, or how our lack of courage altered what was possible for them? What will they say about our disregard for the conservation of natural resources, or our lack of political will to develop and mass-produce alternative sources of energy while there was still time to turn things around?

What will they say about our silent acquiescence that allowed our country to engage in two wars simultaneously while cutting taxes, an event never before recorded in American history? What will they say about our decision to bail out the banks and big businesses, demanding nothing in return? What will they think about us when they learn that the top corporate and bank executives used the bailout money not to create jobs, but to give themselves stratospheric salaries and bonuses, and we stood silent and did nothing?

What will they say about our decision, made just this week, to not ask or expect the wealthiest among us to pay their fair share of the bill, while demanding the poorest among us to carry a disproportionate share of the burden? What will they say about the kind of society and country we've become that could turn its back on those in need, while continuing to honor tax loopholes for corporate jet owners?

Just exactly who are we and what kind of ancestors are we becoming?

Survival of the Wisest

Dr. Salk's evolutionary philosophy emphasized that our focus need no longer be about "survival of the fittest," but become about "survival of the wisest." According to Salk, it is the evolution of consciousness that is now at the forefront of how we will survive today and in generations going forward.

He called for the development of a new educational system that will place at its center "a new way to unfold the potential in each human life through a mutually enhancing relationship with our experience and our environments, serving a purpose transcendent of ourselves and our own time."

Salk believed in starting an "Epidemic of Health", where true health is found in the answer to another one of his favorite questions: "What makes your heart leap?" He believed that knowing one's individual purpose, and how to make it manifest through action, is the basis of authentic health.

In his book, "The Anatomy of Reality," Salk says:

"In the realm of human consciousness the highest and most sophisticated form of self-regulation is based on our ability to see ahead. It requires a knowledge of self and the cosmos and of self in the cosmos. The evolutionary need is to increase our breadth of consciousness as human beings, to expand our range of choice for the wisest alternatives. The human capacity to anticipate and select will be the means whereby the future of human evolution will be determined."

Few people would argue that the decisions our leaders are making today qualify as the "wisest." Even those in positions of political power and influence agree that we're making bad choices that are setting up dire consequences for generations to come.

How do we go forward?

At the personal level, look to ensure that you are acting consistent with your values and those you would want to pass on to the future. Then hold your elected officials responsible for enacting legislation that moves us in the direction of a sustainable future. Get involved in local government, join a grassroots organization and become an active participant in the democratic process -- whatever is left of it. Consider it your personal responsibility to ensure that we pass on a society that is worthy of the one set in motion by our founding fathers 235 years ago.

Are we being good ancestors? Or will we go down in history as the generation that sold out to greed, who allowed our nation to ignore the needs of the many while the needs of the few -- those with the most money -- were the only ones who prospered?

I invite your thoughts and comments in the space below. Let's have a discussion. This question is sitting heavy in my heart today. How about you?

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Blessings on the path.