We welcome this guest post by Barbara Swift, whose family recently donated Link Island to the Islands Trust Conservancy. Her article reflects on the reasoning behind making such an extraordinary donation and the changes in mindset that are needful if we are to look at different ways of working together collectively protect and nurture our ecosystems toward a healthy and sustainable future.

Multi-generational Wealth and an Alternative View

by Barbara Swift

I have been thinking about multi-generational wealth, the typical pattern of distribution, and a potential alternative. Our habitual pattern passes wealth within a family from one generation to the next. This reflects an impulse to protect one’s own against an unknown future—to preserve, grow, and use the assets for the family. This impulse to keep wealth is a reasonable response to a fear of scarcity and a desire for a degree of certainty. Historically, accumulated wealth is the result of extraction, with little consideration for the long-term health of ecosystems and the world around us.

Humans are not wired for ambiguity: at a primal level we want to know our future. The world we live in is one of increasing ambiguity due to rapid climate change as well as increasing social and political change. The possibility of resource scarcity amplifies our fears and reinforces a fortress mentality. An alternative approach is to step back and consider different ways of holding and using resources and working together. Ways that include the larger collective as well as the family.

Each of our chosen actions has a short- and long-term impact for good or ill.

I argue that these times call for alternative strategies with a longer, wholistic view, that build community, cooperation, and shared values; strategies that grow out of a deep abiding love of places like the abundant and beautiful lands and waters of the Salish Sea. These strategies build on earlier cultural patterns of the shared “commons” and historic indigenous practices of ecosystem and land management for resiliency.

To shift to an alternative approach to generational wealth, particularly land, requires taking a deep breath and asking if you and your family have enough. Is preserving the asset within a family, the smartest thing to do? Ask yourself what you value and care deeply about. Is monetary value the primary measure? Are there other objectives and criteria that should influence your decision? Should we change our way of thinking about our land as a place to own or extract from, to a place to care for? Could alternative strategies protect these beautiful places you know, so that they continue to function as complex ecosystems, creating a world in which humans can survive along with all the other critters.

Is this the right time to place a protective covenant on the land or gift the land? If you gift, can you continue as a partner in stewardship? Is this the time when the protection and related reduced financial value can create more value in increasing the health of the earth? Is there a better use of potential estate taxes? I argue we are in an inflection period when these questions and a shift in the way we approach resources are essential. I don’t know what the future brings. I do know that climate change is happening quickly, and our social fabric is fracturing. This leads me to the conviction that it is critical to change our habitual patterns to address both. Now is the time to rethink accumulated family wealth, understanding the power of community to do more together for a larger, longer good. This is a different and pragmatic legacy for this remarkable planet and worth pursuing.

A view over the ocean shows a beautiful sunrise. In the foreground a tree is silhouetted against the blues of clouds, and and water and the gold of morning light.

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