Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to James Madison in 1789, remarked that “the earth should belong only to the living generation,” who should have the right to be free of the trammels of preceeding ages. He asserted that the lifespan of a generation was 19 years, and that regimes, laws, and debts should be renewed and should expire at such intervals. An interesting thought. Edmund Burke stated that society is a contract between those departed, those alive, and those yet unborn. Madison pointed out that previous generations have created roads and bridges for the use of those who came afterward. Who does the world actually belong to?
I would assert now that the span of a generation (whether familial or cultural) has lengthened – both because the average lifespan has risen since the 1780’s, and because people now start families and have children much later, many 30 years or more after their parents had them. The average familial generation in the united states is just over 25 years, and it’s over 27 in the UK. I would argue that a working generation, in all its glory, from the time its participants are educated to the time most have hit their creative peak, is from their mid-late 20’s to the age of around 55 or 60. Between 30 and 40 years. Of course, many of our world leaders, CEO’s, and those making important decisions are older than that. But the most forward- mobile and potentially effectual generation at any given moment is the younger, up and coming one - those in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s who are working with enthusiasm, drive, passion, and zeal.
It seems as though many of my generation have a tendency to think of the world as ‘just the way it is’ without much hope for massive restructure or change. This is ironic because we have seen such massive structural change in our lifetimes alone. I was born into a world with no internet, no cell phones, no personal computers, and I grew up as these massive networks slowly took place and began to restructure our communication and our day to day lives. In the not so distant past, and throughout history, the borderlines of cities, countries, and ideas have constantly been malleable, but now when you ask people they seem to think that everything is set in stone, that politics are beyond our control, and that there’s not much we can do except occasionally vote and hope for the best. But politics are driven by people, and I believe that the best changes ever made to our world have been those made by the strength and courage of a few who were willing to stand up and work for what they believed in, even if it meant risking their lives and going against the status quo. Many of us have become too complacent, or overwhelmed, or burdened with things that make no difference, and it’s time for our generation to start taking the reins. We are certainly not children anymore.
The earth certainly does belong to the 'living generation', but only to those who choose to live in it.