The Good Ancestor


Humanity’s Best Bet, Our Descendants

Michael Shaun Conaway
Publishing Editor
December 17, 2021

We are in the midst of a cultural revolution with people and orgainzations orienting themselves to making a positive impact on the planet. This revolution is being carried out at cyber-speed, leaving some left out if they haven’t discovered their purpose and their massively transformative project. With our desire to make an impact, there is one looming question:

How do I (we) make the greatest impact given our resources and time?

The first part of the answer to this question from the perspective of Generative Futurism is to look at investments that make that pay off over time. In the year 1790, Benjamin Franklin left $2000 sterling to Philadelphia and Boston with the stipulation that after 100 years 75% of the gift could be used to help educate young trades workers. After 200 years the remainder could be withdrawn. In the late 1990’s the value of that gift was $6,500,000. Over the past 130 years many people in these cities have benefited from the education programs provided for by these gifts. Through compound interest over a long time the gift was 3,250 times more valuable not including the value of grants given. Take away, investing in impact that grows over time is incredibly powerful.

The second part of the answer is in the mathematics of generations. Currently there are about 8 billion people on the planet. Those 8 billion will have 8 billion children at a minimum not including population growth. So with every generation of those unborn you have 8 billion more people’s live you can impact. At the 200 year timeframe that Benjamin Franklin chose, you will have 7 generations of descendants with 57 billion lives you can impact. Going out a thousand years you can reach 8 trillion 160 billion people lives. A bit of a mind blowing math here is that at about 900 years you will personally have 1 billion direct descendants. Take away, if you focus your work at long timeframes the mathematics of generations will exponentially amplify your impact.

The most effective way to impact the lives of billions of people is to work at multi-generational timescales.

Combining the two aspects, compounding interest and the mathematics of generations we can get some guidance on what kinds of projects we should focus on or how we might reshape our current projects and businesses to the long term future. This means moving goals beyond the typical 1 to 5 year timeframes to 25 to 100 year timeframes. That might sound daunting to most given the extreme short term thinking we grew up with. In my work with social ventures I’ve discovered that it is far easier to imagine a long time frame than to get short term strategy right. At a long enough term we become free from the current circumstances, and can invent powerful outcomes and solutions. Standing in that future the current steps are much clearer.

This is a competency that we are all building. Climate change alone is forcing this shift to long term thinking. We have to imagine desirable futures to realize them. We call this Future Searching. You can learn more here.

Being a good ancestor includes the question of making the greatest impact but it’s really much more. We need to ask ourselves at every decision point: What would a good ancestor do? or How would a good ancestor do this thing? In return for a life lived as a good ancestor we gain a profoundly fulfilling life, secure in the knowledge that we are leaving this world better than we found it.

Just imagine for a moment – if everyone redefined success to mean being a good ancestor -how then would our world be? I think you know the answer. And just being able conceive of such a future is indeed PROOF of a Thriving Future.

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Letter From the Editors:

In this issue we explore the idea of being a good ancestor. The modern idea has it’s roots in a quote from polio vaccine developer Jonas Salk,

Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors.

Jonas Salk

It’s clear that the impact of the polio vaccine with only 140 cases world wide in 2020 down from a high of nearly 58,000 in the US alone. The disease’s crippling effects are no longer a worry for most of us today. Salk, we can say, is a good ancestor. Moreover Salk refused to patent his vaccine or make any money from it, believing that the vaccine should be a gift to all humanity.

In this issue we have contributions from PROOF writers, Samantha Sweetwater and Lucian Tarnowski to help us learn more about good ancestoring. We have a podcast with Adah Parris and her Ted Talk looking at Cyborg Shamanism, her model for being a good ancestor. And we have a book recommendation, “The Good Ancestor”, by Roman Krznaric.

Please enjoy the issue and put the information here to work in your life so that you too are a good ancestor.

What does it mean to be a Good Ancestor?

Samantha Sweetwater
Contributing Writer
December 17, 2021

We think of ancestors as those who have gone before – as the progenitors of the lives we live now. I prefer to think of ancestors in a continuum of time that includes both the past and the future. Because, we live in a continuum of generations. One generation builds on the next and on the next and so-on. In a very real way, we are the ancestors of the future. This is not a romantic notion. It’s a fact. Whether we are conscious of it or not, the lives we are now living are laying down cultural and ecological tracks that will define the lives of future generations. How will future generations look back on us? Will they say we were good? 

When we ask what it means to be a good ancestor, we are asking how to be a person whose ways of knowing and living effectively participate in creating a future that could be called good by those looking back from that future. We are asking how to be the kind of person that future generations will smile back at with gratitude for the wisdom of our choices. We are asking to resuscitate qualities of intergenerational, ecological and mythic memory that have been buried in the forgetfulness of colonization, slavery, genocide, emmigration, assimilation and appropriation. And, we are asking how to effectively manage our humanness in relationship to each other, technology and nature. 

The question asks us to reverse engineer life-centric worldviews that were and are embedded in all Original Cultures. What are the fundaments of a culture that can sustain harmonious reciprocity and complementarity within a human community and between humans and nature over an arc of 7, 20 or even hundreds of generations? 

And, now that we live in a transglobal, technological civilization, our map must  integrate capacity to steward not just the human relationship with nature, but the human-managed relationship between technology and our biosphere in ways that supports the perpetuation and wellbeing of humans and nature, for the very existence of future human generations lies in the balance. 

Additionally, being a good ancestor implies the capacity to navigate discontinuity. Since discontinuities are inevitable, a good ancestor must carry with them the stories and seeds that can reboot culture when things go dark. 

Let’s imagine ourselves as good ancestors. 

To be a “good ancestor” is a sort of meta-purpose. We don’t wake up one morning saying, “I want to be a good ancestor.” We wake slowly to the implications of our actions and to the immense, transpersonal project of sublimating personal choices, actions and desires in service to a project that transcends one’s own lifetime. We wake to the vacuity of living only for the benefit “I, me and mine.” Instead, we learn to contain both Me and We in the sense of self. We find deeper pleasure and meaning in tending the both-and through our choices and narratives. 

To be a good ancestor means holding the wellbeing of future generations as an ongoing, living question. What is for the greater good? What do I need to let go of or restrain in order to create greater potential harmony? What do I need to create to guarantee greater possibility for others? What stories help empower and inspire participation, co-creation, gratitude, magic, belonging and safety? What pathways restore the experience of the sacred connection with the natural world?

A good ancestor remembers her or his place in the Circle of Life. Humans are part of a Circle and members of a Web, not the top of any pyramid. As members of that Circle, our ecological role is to tend the harmony and abundance of the ecologies we occupy – not just for ourselves but for all species. It is the role of those at the top of the Trophic Cascade. We embrace that leonine role, and we re-cognize our organismic and spiritual membership in the Web. We know our interdependence and interbeing with all other beings. Our practices and storeis are oriented to expand our experience of Communion with nature and the cosmos. We exist in a continuum of living memory. We come from all bloodlines. We remember that we were once Indigenous People, and we know that we are indigenous to this one planet. 

A good ancestor plays to perpetuate the Infinite Game. We are actively engaged in a shift from finite, zero-sum game dynamics to infinite game playing. We understand that the collective project playing to win zero sum games always ends in all-lose. So, we seek to live from generosity and to enact systems change towards win-win game dynamics. 

A good ancestor seeks to align technology with nature’s logic. The word I use to describe this is bionoetic: of the mind of nature. We understand that technology itself is neutral. We build technologies that support good sense-making and democratic process and restore human attention to real relationships with other humans and nature. We work to restrain technologies that extract attention and vitality from life. We use technology to restore and regenerate living systems and human consciousness. 

A good ancestor understands that all life is dependent on place. Food, water, shelter, power – all the atoms that make up our bodies – come from place. We are grounded in place-based consciousness. We tend our local home ecologies, our watersheds, and our planet as homes. We are aware of the chains of causality that bring us our water, our food, our building supplies, our clothes, our technologies and our power. We work to engage right-relationship and reciprocity with all aspects of the supply chain from cradle to grave. We work to heal multi-generational histories of trauma in relationship to land, place and culture. 

A good ancestor works collaboratively with all that wishes humans well to bring health, happiness, peace and abundance to all beings. We work not just human beings but the more-than-human animals, plants and forces of nature that co-inhabit this earth. We think of medicine as that which restores and increases harmony and health in individuals and communities. We work with sacred plant medicines as allies to heal and elevate human souls and bodies.

Our lives are grounded in daily, seasonal, cyclical and stage-based practices that allow for circulation of human consciousness with the rest of Creation. We dance, we meditate, we make music, we pray, we build things of beauty, we plant and harvest. We welcome the souls of children at conception and birth. We initiate our youth into adulthood through rites of passage. We initiate our elders as trusted wisdom keepers. And we hold death as a sacred passage into deathlessness. 

We love and embrace death. Death and life are one Circle. A good ancestor welcomes death as our great teacher in the fullness of the Circle of life and death and the wisdom of death’s gate to the deathless as a foundation to living in balance. 

A good ancestor stitches stories of the past and the future in a vital fabric of gratitude, praise, celebration and wisdom that applies to present-tense choices. We welcome grief as praise for what we loose and grieve boldly to release the manna of what was for future generations. Above all, a good ancestor loves strong and bold and true, unashamed to stand for what is true.

If you have asked this question with me, I thank you.

You are a part of a Great Remembering that is beginning to happen all over the planet – an organismic and soul remembering that I believe to be a natural re-knowing of our true nature as Humans.

We are all indigenous to this planet. We are beginning to remember that we are Creator Beings nested within a larger organismic intelligence of the Creator Being called Gaia and that by re-learning how to harmonize with Her intelligence over the arc of many generations we will find our way Home to ourselves.

From Family Karma to Planetary Dharma

Lucian Tarnowski
Contributing Writer
December 17, 2021

Family Karma is a reaction from your past. Planetary Dharma is taking action on your purpose.

Back in 2019 at the Family Office Association annual gathering I gave a talk titled ‘From Family Karma to Planetary Dharma’. I shared a story of when I had knelt at the feet of Native American Chief White Eagle in Burning Man in 2017. I learnt that he was the descendant of Crazy Horse and Raging Bull, two bright lights of history. We walked together and stood side by side singing as the sun rose before us. As we began to be bathed in golden sunlight I turned to Chief White Eagle, looked deep into his eyes and got down on my knees on the playa. I said to him ‘I am Lucian Tarnowski. Son of Count Arthur Tarnowski and Bridget Astor and Seventh Generation Grandson of John Jacob Astor. The man who became the richest man in America by profiting off the backs of your ancestors. I kneel before you, on my own and my ancestors’ behalf, and ask for your forgiveness for the sins of my ancestors towards yours.” I looked into Chief White Eagle’s eyes as tears rolled down his face. Both of us felt the world around us shaking. It was as if healing energy was being sent through time and space. He looked at me with that of a loving gaze of a father and said “You are forgiven. I love you”.

I share this story with the belief that when we take the inner journey into the impact of our families actions we can access a redemption story for ourselves and our families. We are not responsible for the choices and impact of our ancestors. However, we can take response-ability – taking up our ability to respond. It is in acts such as this that I believe we can transmute our family karma and dedicate our lives to our dharma – our deepest purpose, virtue and righteousness – Our Soul Purpose.

I invite you to consider the premise that the actions of our ancestors are interdependent with our actions. What if there are stories being played through families generation after generation? Perhaps our own individual Soul Purpose is closely tied to the completion of our families purpose in ways that can go beyond our own capacity of awareness.
Connection to our ancestors is a universal language in every indigenous tradition. They each hold a ritualized reverence for their ancestors. However, this practice is largely forgotten in mainstream modern society. I understand there to be deep collective trauma caused by the actions of our own and our collective ancestors. This is an understandable response to the reality that many of our ancestors created destruction. Despite this, I am going to make the case in this article that our connection to our ancestors is a key element in transitioning from a polarized world in the midst of a meta-crisis of meaning into a planetary civilization in harmony with all life. In this moment of crisis many of us are doing work to heal our past in order to give the greatest potentiality to a thriving future.

Our world is lost in left/right identity politics. Othering is rife. Some believe a path through this rift in society lies in finding common ground in the center and making compromises. I believe another dimension is essential. To go backwards and forwards through time. What if we were able to transition through the troubles of our present moment by listening to the wisdom of our individual and collective ancestry. What if by listening to the language of our ancestors as if dancing to an intergenerational melody, we were able to more accurately plot a path towards our thriving future. What if the technology to be able to actively receive the wisdom of our ancestors was the reverse gear of the capacity to communicate with our future selves. Potent wisdom can be found in the healing of intergenerational traumas. This gives us the confidence to know the ground upon which we stand. Learning to communicate with our ancestors may enable us to communicate with the future. We are them, then, now.

Einstein said ‘we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them’. I believe he was describing the dimensional perspective of time in this statement. If we take time into our perspective toolkit we are able to consider problems not only from the present moment but through the timeless perspective of our ancestors – both individual and collective. In the very act of going backwards, we discover new ways to go forwards into the best possible vision of our future.

My personal enquiry into the nature of reality often leads me back to my ancestors and forwards to my future self. I believe our connection to our ancestors is a powerful spiritual technology – a language if you like. The more one can understand and invoke our ancestors in our presence the deeper one can tap into their wisdom and healing. Our intuition is the communication channel for this wisdom and healing. I believe our intuition is a timeless instinct.

Among the many ways I am fortunate, one is in the memories I have of my ancestors. I descend from over 700 documented years of Polish nobility on my father’s side. My paternal families include the Tarnowski, Potocki and Zamoyski families. My grandparents are known 28 generations back to 1290. Many were military and academic leaders and close advisors to Kings. Many of my grandfathers led some of the most famous battles in European history such as the Siege of Vienna. On my mother’s side, I am the Great-Grandson of Field Marshal Earl Haig, Commander in Chief of the British Forces during the First World War. Given a million men died under his command I have reflected deeply on the concept of family karma. I am also the Seventh-Generation Grandson of John Jacob Astor, America’s first millionaire. John Jacob Astor amassed a fortune through the American Fur Trade and real estate investments in New York which gave the springboard for Astors to become the wealthiest family in the world. My mother grew up in Hever Castle, the childhood home of Queen Anne Boleyn, while my Grandfather was the owner and Chairman of the Times of London. My ancestry shaped the world I was born into and instilled in me the meaning of nobility – how one shows up in the time of a crisis. My father once said to me that what makes a Tarnowski is when others run away from a fire we run towards it. This was demonstrated by the bravery shown by my grandmother, Wanda Zamoyska, protecting Jews in Poland as well as my fathers service in the underground army during the Second World War.

I am on my own journey towards transmuting my family karma in my devotion to the vision of a United Planet and the UP Game to accelerate a thriving civilization in harmony with all life. I see my dharma as a storyteller and ambassador to the planetary regenaissance. I focus on creating a unifying narrative for our shared future as I believe the story is the front line of transformation.

We all have a unique role to play and our role might well be informed by the actions of our families past.

This perspective has been prophesied in various indigenous and especially Native American traditions. A good example is Black Elk’s prophecy of the Hoop of All Hoops – A vision for the uniting of the planet.

In one of the early UP Game experiments, Chief Phil Lane and I came together to prototype a concept we called the Intergenerational Leadership Alliance. The goal was and will be to convene hereditary indigenous leaders from around the world and the descendants of some of the most powerful families in the world. I believe many of the families that created great wealth from the extractive system of capitalism will play a crucial role in transforming industries into a regenerative win for all system. In fact, the largest wealth transfer in history represented by more than $60 trillion is moving from one generation to the next by 2052 and 70% of this inheritance is going to women. The vast majority wish to differentiate from the investing practices of the past and only focus their investments of this capital on impact. I see this community of wealth holders as critical to funding transition solutions.

The meme of ‘From Family Karma, to Planetary Dharma’ is an iconic story for the regenaissance. It is for this reason that I am passionate about the emergence of a decentralized Planetary Bank that can move the trillions necessary to fund the new world collective and give birth to a planetary civilization in harmony with all life. As the existing extractive financial system comes to its inevitable end this decade it will become obvious that instead of the pitchforks coming, the better story will be that the key holders of planetary dharma are taking response-ability. This will become the story of the transition from billionaires to billions of heirs. This could be a line in the redemption song in the story of the new world collective.

Proof 36 – The Good Ancestor

In the News:

Organizations Generating a Thriving Future: The Long Now Foundation

The long now foundation’s mission is to encourage the imagination at the timescale of civilisation — the next and last 10,000 years — a timespan called the long now. The foundation, established in 1996, seeks to start and promote a long-term cultural institution. It aims to provide a counterpoint to what it views as today’s “faster/cheaper” mindset and to promote “slower/better” thinking. The Long Now Foundation hopes to “creatively foster responsibility” in the framework of the next 10,000 years.

The foundation has several ongoing projects, including a 10,000-year clock known as the Clock of the Long Now, the Rosetta Project, the Long Bet Project, the open source Timeline Tool (also known as Longviewer), the Long Server and an ongoing talk series.

The Long Now Foundation has established an approach to define and promote longterm thinking that PROOF is a direct beneficiary, a descendant if you will.

What We’re Watching: TEDx Amsterdam, Adah Parris

To date, most of the development of and investment into scaled technology, especially digital technology, has been for and by the WEIRD (western educated industrialized, rich and democratic). Cyborg Shamanism is a way to empathetically subvert that status quo. Cyborg Shamanism is a philosophy designed to spark a global movement that examines what could happen to innovation if we combine ‘other ways of knowing’ in the design of new technologies. Cyborg Shamanism, words that reach into our deep past and deep future.

What We’re Reading: The Good Ancestor

In The Good Ancestor, leading public philosopher Roman Krznaric delves into history and the human mind to show that we can be good ancestors. From the pyramids to the NHS, humankind has always had the innate ability to plan for posterity and take action that will resonate for decades, centuries, even millennia to come. If we want to be good ancestors and be remembered well by the generations who follow us, now is the time to recover and enrich this imaginative skill.

In The Good Ancestor, Krznaric reveals six practical ways we can retrain our brains to think of the long view, including Deep-Time Humility (recognizing our lives as a cosmic eyeblink) and Cathedral Thinking (starting projects that will take more than one lifetime to complete). His aim is to inspire more “time rebels” like Greta Thunberg—to shift our allegiance from this generation to all humanity—in short, to save our planet and our future.

Roman Krznaric – The Good Ancestor

What We’re Listening to – The NOW Show with Futurist Adah Parris

How do we learn lessons from the past? How can we leave behind our global problems and create a new era for humanity? What are the technologies and behaviors we need to adapt to make sustainable change, and how do we bring all that back to the people who can take action to change the world? These are the questions polymath tech futurist Adah Parris has been grappling with in the face of the challenges we have today. In this episode of the Boldly NOW show, Adah shines a light on these questions and gives us ways to recognize new patterns that can lead to a better future.


Being a Good Ancestor should by now seem like a good idea. The question you might be asking right now is, how do I do that? Here are some practical steps you can take to start being a good ancestor today.

  • Learn about your direct ancestors. What were the unique circumstances they lived through? What challenges did they overcome? What gifts did they leave you? Connect with them and make them present in your life today.
  • Learn about your more distant cultural ancestors. Where did they come from? What were their rituals for honouring their ancestors. See if you can use these rituals to see your place as a part of a continuum of a human lineage.
  • Think about what kinds of investments you can make that are compounding in interest. These investments need not be money but rather can be time and attention. For example you may choose to invest in caring for your children which will likely make them more likely to be good parents and so on.
  • Examine your goals and desires. Are their items that are short sighted – not serving a multi-generational benefit? If so consider putting these goals and desires aside for a better future.
  • Climate change is the most pressing issue of our time. We must tranform our lifestyles to be sustainable, low carbon and reuse, recycle oriented. It’s time to abandon consumer culture and find fulfilment in our contributions to all life.

Beyond the practical there are some shifts in your thinking and being that will orient you towards being a good ancestor.

  • Contemplate your descendants. What kind of life are they likely to live? If you could send them one gift down through the generations, what would it be. Imagine that gift in a future descendants hands. What would it take to make sure that your gift arrives in the future?
  • Imagine a desirable future for yourself and your descendants. Now orient your life to making that vision happen.
  • Listen to your descendants, born and not yet born. Ask them what they want and need in their lives to be happy and fulfilled.
  • Consider that you are part of The Long Now that covers the past 10,000 years of time going back and 10,000 years of time going forward into the future. What is your part to play in the story of humanity.

If you have additional thoughts on actions we can all take, please post them in the conversation below.

May this information inspire you to generate a thriving future for humanity and a thriving life for yourself. For more resources please check out our Podcast and Youtube channel.

-The Now Team

BOLD.LY NOW is a movement of co-creative up-levelers who have a burning desire to step free of our collapsing world & take the most daring leap forward to a thriving world.

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PROOF is a digital magazine published by NOW and the Generative Futures Initiative.  The mission of the magazine is to shine a light on people, organisations and ideas that stand as Proof of a Thriving Future.