Thinking Ahead

There is a saying that may have come from ancient Greece: "A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they will never sit." I first remember reading it somewhere in the works of the poet W.B. Yeats although I have never been able to locate it there again. The saying lingers nonetheless, a reminder of a different way of thinking about the world.

The story is echoed in a story told about Oxford College. I encountered it first in a book called "After the Ecstasy the Laundry," and again while reading Gregory Bateson. The link below is another version. The essence of the story is that the foresters at New College, Oxford, planted oak trees so that hundreds of years in the future, someone would be able to replace the oak beams in the Great Hall.

We all solve problems when solving them means that we make our lives easier or accomplish something we could not otherwise accomplish. Planting trees does not solve problems: it avoids them by ensuring that the shade, and the replacement beams, are available when they are needed. Hundreds of years into the future.

We all have goals and plans for ourselves and our families. As you consider the coming year, set another level of goal as well. Plan to plant trees so that people you will never meet will have what they need hundreds of years from now. In a society where five years is considered long-term, and 50 years an incredible commitment, think hundreds of years into the future and act now to change what has not happened, what will never happen because of your action.


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