New View EDU
New View EDU
Oct 5, 2021
Roman Krznaric
Play • 45 min

Are we being good ancestors? This thought-provoking question strikes at the heart of what it means to design for the future. What can school leaders do right now, in the present, to ensure that long-term thinking is a pervasive, prominent practice in our schools? How can we overcome the daily short-term pressures of educational settings to take a future-focused approach to teaching, learning, planning, and innovating? And what would schools look like if we modeled seventh-generation leadership in everything we do? 

In many ways, school leadership is immediate, present-focused work. Leaders must respond to constantly changing daily circumstances, external pressures, and influences. Never has this immediacy been more clear than the past 18 months, when school leaders have had to constantly adapt and react with real urgency to shifting guidelines, precautions, and safety concerns while continuing to provide a valuable educational experience. But all this quick, reactive decision-making can lead us to neglect long-term thinking—the kind of deliberative planning and forecasting that allows us to create sustainable, nurturing systems that will serve not just today’s students, but the students of the future.

In this episode—in the temporary absence of co-host Tim Fish—Lisa Kay Solomon sits down with Roman Krznaric to dig deeply into the concept of being a “good ancestor.” Roman, a public philosopher, bestselling author, and founder of the world’s first empathy museum, explains how the good ancestor framework can be a foundational guiding principle for school leaders. Starting from the place of asking what legacy our present-day decisions will leave for future generations, Roman traces good ancestor thinking from indigenous cultures to present-day innovations in Canada and Japan. He shares how grounding futures thinking in a deep understanding of empathy can lead people to make radically different choices than they would make under other conditions. And he makes the argument that the way we approach strategic planning may not actually be very future-focused at all.

Roman challenges us to make the future both real and felt by bringing future generations into the room. He examines embodied practices like role play and costuming as ways to envision the future as part of our present communities. Roman also raises the question of approaching long-term thinking as community-building: Why are we able to expand our ideas about impact to people who live at a geographic distance from us, but not to people who will live in our own locations years from now? How will we be remembered by those future residents, and how can our current decision-making have a positive impact on their lives? Roman makes the case that schools are already inherently a long-term setting, providing educational foundations that will serve students 10 or 20 years down the road. But what innovations might we create if we started to think farther into the future, beyond 20 years, and design our schools for generations ahead? And what potential might we unlock in our students right now by starting to teach them to look up from the instant gratification of their curated worlds, and think about the worlds they want their children to inhabit?

Some of the key questions Lisa explores in this interview include:

  • How can school leaders not only take a longer-term view, but communicate that stance clearly to their key stakeholders—parents, the board, alumni, etc.?
  • Although our brains are vulnerable to short-term distractions, The Good Ancestor also makes the case that we’re hardwired for long-term thinking. What’s the difference between our marshmallow brains and our acorn brains, and how do we train ourselves—and our students—to be more attuned to acorn thinking?
  • How can we practice the kind of long-term, good ancestor thinking that ensures our school community’s values are sustained and upheld through future generations? And how does this kind of thinking impact the way we design and plan for priorities like capital campaigns?
  • Can good ancestor thinking help leaders to design truly diverse, collaborative conversations that invite multiple perspectives, rather than designing conversations that subtly seek buy-in to decisions that have already been made?
  • How can we use good ancestor thinking and long-term perspective taking to inform our study of history? Can we begin to teach students to examine events both backward and forward—with consideration for how history informs what is happening in the present, and will inform the future?

Resource List:

  • Roman’s website: Dive into more of Roman’s work, including videos, cartoons, graphics, and resources for expanding your understanding of good ancestor thinking.
  • The Empathy Museum: Explore the world’s first empathy museum and the “Mile in your shoes” exhibit.
  • The Man Who Planted Trees: The short story by Jean Giono, which Roman cites as an inspiration for his own work.
  • The David Suzuki Foundation: A future-focused climate sustainability foundation that embodies good ancestor principles.
  • Future Design in Japan: Read more about the municipal planning practice Roman discusses in this episode.
  • Roots of Empathy Curriculum: Get more information about the evidence-based program reducing childhood aggression and increasing social competencies.

In This Episode:

  • “What I mean by conceptual emergency around long-term thinking is that I think most of us have picked up newspapers, looked at websites and things, and seen people talking about the incredible short-termism of society, whether it's the fact that our politicians can't see beyond the next election or even the latest tweet, or businesses can't see beyond the quarterly report or a market spike and crash and speculative bubbles.And we're constantly looking at our phones.” (2:17)
  • “Let's not just step into the shoes of people who are maybe voiceless or marginalized in today's world. Let's try and step into the shoes of future generations.” (8:20)
  • “You know, in many ways we know we are the inheritors of very positive legacies from the past, you know, legacies of cities we still live in, or medical discoveries we still benefit from. But we also know we're the inheritors of very negative or destructive legacies, legacies of colonialism and slavery and racism that create deep inequities that must now be repaired, or legacies of economies that are structurally addicted to endless growth and fossil fuels that must now be transformed. And that raises a question. You know, about what are we going to pass on to the next generation, given what we've inherited, which bits do we want to keep and which bits do we want to move on from?” (8:50)
  • “And it's to recognize that, you know, like for me, my 12-year-old daughter could easily be alive in the year 2100, you know, that future isn't science fiction. It's an intimate family fact, and caring about the lives of someone now in the future is kind of what schools are all about, right? Because it's about giving kids something great in their lives today, but also about doing something for their lives into the long future and giving them the tools that they need to survive and thrive in a very uncertain and turbulent world.” (21:11)
  • “A satisfying conversation is one that makes you say things you have never said before.” (32:32)
  • “I think just that question of recognizing who I am as a leader, you know, the definition of a leader, in a way, needs to be inspired by the idea of seventh-generation decision-making. A good leader is one that's thinking seven generations ahead, let's say, as a rule of thumb. And that is a leadership quality that has worked for indigenous peoples for thousands of years, you know, it's a form of ecological stewardship, but the stewardship that a school leader has is also a kind of a social stewardship, you know, about the community they're creating and they're generating and regenerating.” (41:11)

Full Transcript

About Our Guest:

Roman Krznaric is a public philosopher who writes about the power of ideas to change society. His latest book is The Good Ancestor: How to Think Long Term in a Short Term World. His previous international bestsellers, including Empathy, The Wonderbox and Carpe Diem Regained, have been published in more than 20 languages.

After growing up in Sydney and Hong Kong, Roman studied at the universities of Oxford, London, and Essex, where he gained his Ph.D. in political sociology. He is founder of the world’s first Empathy Museum and is currently a research fellow of the Long Now Foundation.

Roman has been named by The Observer as one of Britain’s leading popular philosophers. His writings have been widely influential amongst political and ecological campaigners, education reformers, social entrepreneurs, and designers. An acclaimed public speaker, his talks and workshops have taken him from a London prison to the TED global stage.

Roman has previously been an academic, a gardener, and worked on human rights issues in Guatemala. He is also a fanatical player of the medieval sport of “real tennis” and has a passion for making furniture.

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