Commentary by Terry Anker
What, if any, obligation do we owe to those who came before us? Grandma says that she’d like her tea set to go to Tom. Well, Grandma passed away last year. Her will didn’t outline her wishes for the silver service. And, no one has ever liked Tom – except for Grandma. Besides, we think he was probably taking advantage of her. The same story plays out, big and small, anywhere that there are humans. Even if we are provided with a clear directive, do we have the right, moral or otherwise, as the living to co-opt the authority, wishes, and even possessions, of others?
We good folks of planet Earth like to imagine that each generation exceeds the one that came before us. Some might argue that we evolve. Old heroes are debunked. Treasured possessions are considered outdated or quaint. And, we work to add our own “improvements” to the fashion of previous generations. Hem lines go, up, then down, then are replaced by pants, then shorts, then skirts again.
Likewise, our commitment to ideas could be called a bit fickle. We laud the wisdom of certain political and other leaders – then, the style shifts. The once vaunted is now dismissed as irrelevant, or worse. Institutions rise, fall and reinvent, grasping for relevance. Art, literature, architecture, sport and education all yield to the force of popular opinion and fad.
Founder, patriarch, matriarch and great thinker, all are challenged, replaced and then, again, renewed. Is respect for antecedent a moral imperative? Or, is it only a suggestion? When is change required by physical circumstance, and when is our own conceit to usurp the rightful authority of another surging? Founder’s intent may not be dispositive; but likewise, it cannot be casually dismissed. One imagines that Grandma had her intentions – and those certainly belonged to her.