Shirtsleeves

There’s an old adage: “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” The idea behind the adage is that an industrious person works hard to build wealth in order to leave it to their children. Their children grew up around hard work and saw the benefits so they’re responsible with the money they’ve inherited, but they don’t have to work nearly as hard themselves. As a result, their children grow up wealthy but don’t learn commensurate responsibility; they squander their money and are poor again.

It’s not always true, of course. But it’s true often enough to have created the adage. Leaving things better for your kids (and even if you don’t have them yourself, leaving the world better for all the kids) is humanity’s most noble pursuit. I think most of the most salient problems on Earth are generation-length problems, and we could solve them in a generation if we accepted that. But people are often selfish, and so they want to choose “solutions” that are anything but, sold by snake-oil salesmen who promise that you can have everything better today if you just sign here.

But you should not only be shepherding resources towards your children, you should also be teaching them to be shepherds. I would never hand over the car keys to my child without first making sure that child was a responsible driver. But I will work hard to make sure my children have cars, because early access to reliable transportation opens up many opportunities for them.

Give resources. Teach their use. Teach the teaching of their use. And share the values and vision of a better world. Lay yourself on that altar if you get the opportunity. You will not live forever anyway, but any sacrifice you can make for your kin will echo for eternity.

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