In all my furious questioning of how we define sustainability in terms of the arts. maybe the simplest definition is embodied in the simple question a “What do we leave behind for our children?” My friend who is a therapist and writer shared these thoughts with me the other day:
“I was thinking today about my friend who just put his son on the plane, and another friend whose son is leaving for University of Washington tomorrow, and I started thinking about sustainability through the lens of what we leave behind for our children. Often people leave money or special possessions. Traditionally people have left the family farm or some plot of land if they could. I think it must be comforting to feel like you are leaving your children the means to survive. We cannot know what will speak to our children’s hearts and souls, but we know they will need to find shelter and eat. The parent who leaves an inheritance for a child has given a gift with no ties–the child can use money however he wants–but he has also left nothing of himself or the culture. The parent who leaves the family farm, for example, may be leaving a great deal of himself–decades of sweat and careful decision-making are in that land–but his child may not be able or willing to farm or live on that property. To be able to shape one’s life work so as to include maximizing one’s own gifts and goals, but to also keep an eye on what one’s child will need and want in the future, seems like a real challenge. Maybe our mainstream culture is way, way off the mark in leading us to believe that our career choices and lifestyle decisions are all about ourselves. Maybe loving our children should include making choices about money, land, and other resources that we can pass on to them in ways that they can really use and that carry forward a rich cultural context. And any rich cultural context includes art. If we only leave our children cold, hard, cash, where is the love in that? Where are the values? Where is the beauty?