What Do We Owe The Future?

There are many problems facing us as a species. Some, like racism, have to do with how we treat each other now. Others, like climate change or fossil fuel use, are problems we can predict for the future.

The most immediate problems that we see are the problems facing us right now. For instance, do I need a haircut? Am I dressed appropriately for today’s weather? Is my stomach growling? Which bills are due this week?

We do some planning for the future. For example, when possible we create retirement accounts so that we have enough money to last us into our old age.

However, we aren’t all that good at looking far ahead. Most people do not save enough money for a comfortable retirement. Some of that, no doubt, has to do with the lack of extra income to put toward retirement. But some of it comes from our inability to imagine the future.

As difficult as it might be for an individual — rarely do we actually have our lives mapped out in advance — but it becomes almost impossible in aggregate. Our society has a difficult time sacrificing our present for a better future.

As an example, let’s consider fossil fuel use. We’ve known for decades that the supply of fossil fuels is limited. There is only so much oil and coal in the ground. However, this stored energy has allowed us to build our modern day society, from the grandiose, like the ability to travel around the world quickly, to the mundane like having a light to read during the night time.

However, knowing that we have a limited supply of fossil fuels, fuels that power our present-day life, we continue to increase our usage year after year. It is only recently, after decades, that we have started to develop renewable fuel technologies. Even now, decades later, they still only make up a tiny fraction of our overall energy usage. We have concentrated instead on more efficient ways of extracting these fossil fuels, rather than transitioning to alternate sources.

Why is it so hard to plan, collectively, for the future? Individually, we might be able to sacrifice present-day luxuries for a better future. Why not as a species?

Or is the question itself the wrong one to ask? Should we not be making decisions for the future? As airplane safety teaches us, it is important to secure our own oxygen mask before assisting others. If we don’t survive in the present day, preparing for the future won’t matter.

To summarize, how much of our thought and energy should be thinking about future generations? What do we owe the future?

Related questions: What are our responsibilities to others? How do you set priorities? What is the greatest problem facing humanity? What is your five year prediction? Ten? What are you saving for?

What Are You Willing To Sacrifice?

Most of us want to be successful (whatever that means). We want to be a good spouse, a good parent, a good worker, a good friend. However, often these goals are at odds with each other.

For example, to be a good worker, you might have to put in overtime, which means less time with the family. As a result, you might not be as good a spouse or a parent.

And what if the goal is to not be merely good but rather great or even outstanding in a particular role? Then your ability to be good at other roles becomes even harder. You might be only acceptable, or even worse, at other roles in your life.

In fact, it would seem that if you want to be really good at something, then by necessity other areas of your life will suffer.

That doesn’t mean, of course, that you can only be good at one thing. It is possible to be good at many things. However, the larger the list of things at which you are good decreases the number of things at which you might be great.

Therefore, it is important to set priorities. Determine which aspects of your life are the most important to you. Correspondingly, what are the areas that are not as important? Not that they aren’t important at all, just that they are less important.

This can be really difficult. There are probably some things that you really like that you have to be willing to sacrifice, in order to be better and more effective at what you decide is the most important. Perhaps you are willing to sacrifice your career for your family. Maybe you sacrifice sleep for a hobby. Or maybe a more fulfilling job is given up for a more lucrative one.

For your theoretical list, what are your most important goals? And what are you willing to sacrifice to achieve them? What are you not willing to sacrifice?

Related questions: Is happiness the most important purpose in life? How do you define success? Why do we put up with unhappiness? How do you set priorities? What material possession means the most to you? What gives you purpose?