Wednesday, February 25, 2009

We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children

There is a often used proverb, by David Brower "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children" (and no, it is not a native Indian proverb that many people think it is), which can be found in numerous conservation articles. Today, Dr. Jane Goodall gave a lecture here in Oxford, and this is what she said:

"Someone said that we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, but borrow it from out children. Look at the world around us. The line is a lie! We aren't borrowing from our children. Borrowing means that we will pay it back, but we aren't paying back. We are STEALING from our children...."

This is the second time I've sat in on Dr. Goodall's lecture, and again she hits me with something new to think about. Give it a ponder in the Singapore context. Parents work hard, spend a lot on luxuries (for themselves and their children), driving consumption through the roof. These parents are thinking they are giving their children good lives, and ingraining in them values of materialism, so that their children will plunder whatever's left from their grandchildren. Dr. Goodall also went on to say:

"We shouldn't be stealing from our future generations. We haven't paid them back yet, but we should."

And so it must be. Think about it. Are you stealing your (whether born or not) children's future? Are you willing to pay it back? Are we willing to be the generation that will shoulder the responsibility of collectively paying back for the generations past that have now returned to the soil?

On a brighter note, Dr. Goodall mentioned to me in the little bit of time we spoke, that she will be in Singapore this June! Watch this space for details of the possibility of events and lectures that might be available!


armadillo said...

Thanks for Id-ing Shun Deng! Jane Goodall is amazing! Nice thought provoking post, just like her words!
It was fun for me to take a look at my own blog after a very long time, was surprised to see it was you!
How is life?

SD said...


Life is getting busy! Presentations, proposals, submissions... and it goes on.. I havent even got time to finish my zoo work work last december!

Anonymous said...

hi and how do you know tat... how many percent of it bis true.

Beckett said...

I've heard this quote since I was a little girl, and back in the early 50's it was credited as a Native American saying, by Wallace Black Elk (Sioux Nation).
Further, I disagree that the statement references a means of trade (borrow = payback), but rather an understanding that borrowing would include the respect of taking care of the object/property until such time as it would be handed over.


Beckett L

Patrick said...

Interesting but that is not because David Brower has many times used this proverb that he is at its origin and "inventor."
This proverb is the translation of different ways native populations from Africa and America have expressed their concerns about preserving their environment for future generations.
The translation of the original message conveyed through oral tradition has been adopted by many authors, including Antoine de Saint Exupéry after traveling across the world.
I'm sorry to conclude by the fact that, with the high respect I may have for David Brower and Jane Goodall; "We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children" is part of our ancestors oral tradition stolen with proud for the best of what it means.

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bobwoolseyh said...

I agree with both Becket and Patrick, it makes me wonder about why you would think it comes from another source who borrowed it from another source who borrowed it from another, however, I agree with you about stealing, it was stolen then from Black Elk who actually got it from Sitting Bull and which he talks about in Black Elk Speaks, both of who were Lakota.

I disagree with your statement about stealing, if we borrow it doesn't mean we return it in the same way.

What the Lakota is saying (You might want to read about the White Buffalo Woman) is to respect the earth, the mother as one day you will be turning it over to your children and they will have to pass it on to their children.

You're look is we must change (which I agree) but it should be looked at in the light it was meant -- respect the earth so we can give it to the next generation. See we can't improve on perfect which was received by the maker, God, universe or whatever you want to cal it, but we can leave, it or give to the next generation.

It's like the saying "leave nothing but your footprints and take nothing but your memories.

Both saying are universal, they hit at home.

The saying also conveys the thought of we didn't inherit it for our own use but we are responsible for it for out children.

I like you am a big fan of Dr. Goodall and her work which just touches the beginnings of looking at societal changes which can occur so we can leave a planet to our children and grandchildren we can be proud of.

So to say someone stole it from someone and then you misquote it and say this person is the rightful heir to the saying isn't that similar to what you are saying. Why not be respectful and mindful all around and just accept the statement as being the truth, not your truth.

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SD said...

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