01/19/2012 04:40 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Legacy Do You Want to Build in 2012?

Here is a different way for us to plan for the new year. Consider the legacy we want to leave for future generations -- Is it that we made more money, exercised more, scheduled more appointments than anyone in our social network? Is it that we paid less tax or got a new car every year?

Or is it that we leave our children and grandchildren a "sustainable, peaceful, and just world," as Mary Catherine Bateson, author and cultural anthropologist, asked at the 5th Annual International Conference on Positive Aging in December 2011?

We are in a new stage of life that we can call "Adulthood II," Bateson, author of Composing a Further Life: the Age of Active Wisdom, declared. How is this different from our first adulthood? It's a time when we have an opportunity to live in our wisdom, Bateson says, rather than being overburdened with caretaking of family and earning a living. 2012-01-19-composingafurtherlife140x204.jpg

But, maturity doesn't always bring wisdom. Many of us are fortunate enough to have access to health care, exercise, and nutritious food, which allows us to live a longer, healthier, more active life. But our culture prompts us to think shorter. Our politicians, our corporate CEOs, even our non-profits are dedicated to short-term goals, goals that get people elected or increase companies' bottom line so stockholders will buy more of their stock.

Walter Bortz, II, MD, longevity and robust living expert and a plenary speaker at the Positive Aging conference, counseled us to live a meaningful life -- "make yourself necessary," rather than expendable. Ask yourself this question, he says: am I giving energy or sucking energy?

How do we determine if we are giving or sucking energy? Are we giving energy to the world when we create blog posts such as this one? When we become caregivers of disabled relatives? When we listen attentively, so that people in our circle feel "gotten?" When we volunteer our services to a battered women's shelter?

When we access our wisdom, we can say we are giving energy. "If we are not actively learning and reflecting on what we're learning, we cannot be wise," says Bateson. Reflection metabolizes learning. We might also say that reflection metabolizes action. When we unquestionably accept what our popular talk show hosts and TV networks tell us is the "truth," then we are condoning ignorance. We are condemning our progeny to a more limited life than what we have been fortunate to enjoy -- To a world of energy shortages, global warming, limited health care, few means of livelihood, lack of justice, wars, and intolerance of differences.

In an interview with Barbara Meltzer, Los Angeles County Commissioner for Older Adults, in Aging Today, a publication of the American Society on Aging, Bateson asks us to "reflect on what has really mattered to (us)... to look for sources of beauty, for truth, for goodness and for shared community." This exhortation seems to point to ways that we can be in touch with our wisdom and to pass that on to future generations.

How can we make certain that we "serve as trustees, as advocates for the future" (Bateson's words), rather than suckers of energy from future generations? How can we be wise and look toward the long-term, rather than maintain a short-timers' mindset?

• Keep learning and exploring
• Fact check, don't accept the rantings of media buffoons
• Reflect via meditation, journaling, talks with people of all generations and backgrounds
• Determine what we care about and immerse ourselves in that
• Live in other people's cultures, even in our own country, even for small moments
• Read voraciously the words of people who don't always reflect our point of view
• Create art of all kinds
• Add your own ways to serve as advocates for the future

If you're thinking about how you want to change your life in 2012, consider practicing ways to serve as trustees for the future of the globe. And let us know how you are going to do this.