WE HAVE A HARDWIRED biological incentive to promote the wellbeing of our kids, so that the family line will continue. This is the selfish gene in action. Yet modern human behavior suggests that the wiring may be at least a little faulty—for three key reasons.
Environmental. Our domination of natural resources continues to create tremendous improvements in global wealth, but it sometimes comes at the expense of the only confirmed habitable space that’s practical for our species.
To some extent, this is unavoidable. Even the most ardent and noisy environmentalists I know aren’t advocating a return to the days before cheap energy and the attendant conditions, when people were rid of their teeth by age 25 and worked to death 10 years later. Still, we are the only stewards of our lonely planet, and it’s a delicate balancing act. Environmental sustainability must be achieved for our children to succeed and prosper.
Cultural. Over the past 400 years, Western thought and culture have laid a foundation for the incomprehensible quality of life we enjoy today. Our shared values have allowed individual freedom and wealth to flourish. A brief look at world history in the 20th century will show that when wealth inequality is eliminated, misery is universal—but when wealth inequality is unchecked, the pillars that support civil society can become very unstable. Either outcome is catastrophic to peace and prosperity. We must tend the cultural roots that sustain our quality of life.
Financial. It has been said that wealth carries the seeds of its own destruction. Thomas Stanley and William Danko wrote about what they called “economic outpatient care” in their classic The Millionaire Next Door. They noted that adult children receiving parental financial support often lacked the knowledge and motivation that enabled their parents to succeed and prosper. If we’re too generous in helping our children’s financial wellbeing, there’s a grave risk our efforts will backfire.
Which begs the question, “What should we leave to our kids?” There are four items on my growing list:
If our kids are properly grounded, any assets we leave them can be a blessing. But that grounding—financial and otherwise—is unlikely to happen by accident.
When not paddling, biking or shooting, Phil Dawson provides technical services for a global auto manufacturer. He, his sweetheart Donna and their four extraordinary daughters live in and around Jarrettsville, Maryland. His previous articles include When Brokers Fail, Financially Fit and Fighting for Peace. You can contact Phil via LinkedIn.