My smart son is taking an evolutionary ecology class, and he told me something extraordinary on the phone last night. A small animal—let’s say a marmot—will risk making a noise to warn of predators even though it is likely to be discovered and eaten because of doing so. Scientists have wondered, “What’s the evolutionary reason any animal would do this if it’s against their own survival?” You guessed it—they are sacrificing to preserve their gene pool. They are the original Seventh Generation practitioners—the Iroquois principle that decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.
Since my entrance into the world, I’ve been obsessed with making a difference. The little marmot tells me that it’s too soon to tell. It’s hubris to think I’ll be able to tell if I’ve made a difference just looking at the immediate cause and effect in my sphere. Maybe my job is to voice a warning, and I won’t live to see all the genes that are preserved because of it.
My husband and I have been listening to Leo Nocentelli (check out this song or this song) this year. Leo was the guitarist for The Meters, and recorded these solo songs in the 1970’s during a short break from the band. These recordings were forgotten, discovered, and finally released in 2021. Whenever we listen to these amazing songs while we’re making pizza on a Friday night, it reminds me—too soon to tell. The story isn’t over yet.
Recently I did a little piece of pro bono work, helping a non-profit board set some goals around becoming more diverse and inclusive. I had already facilitated all day and had a long drive ahead of me. I really wondered why I had said “yes”. They were in a room together in another part of the state, and I was zooming in. The connection cut out a few times, I had a hard time seeing and hearing them. I did my best. As far as the outcome? Definitely too soon to tell.
I got a handwritten card in the mail yesterday. One of the board members had gone digging for my address, and she wrote, “It always amazes me what is bubbling just below the surface with people. We often hold it in, not knowing how it will be received. That relatively short conversation was very significant for us as a group. So much gratitude for your time.” I cried reading it. Maybe Leo felt a little of that when his recordings were dug up—sometimes we do get to see how the story is unfolding.
We can’t predict the ultimate outcome of our decisions and choices. We certainly can’t control what other people do. We are part of multiple complex systems, full of our own mixed motives. There are predators and unintended consequences everywhere.
But you have your own instincts. Follow them, whether you get a card in the mail about it or not. Check on your neighbor. Give your employees a raise. Take a risk and hire the person with less experience. Give money away. Say “I’m sorry.” Linger after yoga class and meet someone new. Record the song. Keep your mouth shut when something is none of your business. Or speak up when it’s time to make something your business. It’s way too soon to tell if you did the right thing or not, but that’s the wrong measure. Parker Palmer reminds us that faithfulness, not effectiveness, is the better measure for our work. Otherwise, we will pick smaller and smaller things to work on. We won’t come together for the hard, complicated stuff. Like surviving together on this planet.
Consider this little missive your card in the mail—thank you. Keep at it. That seventh generation is counting on it.