Monday, 2 July 2018

Wise Words: The Future Is Not A Promised Land

Westerners like me implicitly understand that a temporal orientation is also a spatial orientation: we face the future; the past is behind us. Indigenous Australians make temporal-spatial links too, but theirs work differently. They face the source; those who come after them are called the “behind mob.” Each generation follows along behind their ancestors, and their descendants follow along behind them. I imagine this mode of time as waves of generations; we face the source, which is where we all came from, and we follow our predecessors back to the source, leaving behind us a “new mob” or “new generation” to take over. Those behind us walk in our footsteps, as we walk in the steps of our old people …

Within this indigenous world of time, space, and generations in motion, the future is delightfully complex. On the one hand, it can be assumed to be following behind us in the form of the next generations of people, plants, animals, and others. More significantly, though, it is in the ground. The future is waiting to come forth, to be born and to live, and then to return into the source, riding the waves of generations that have kept country and all the creatures alive “forever.”

[The indigenous] way of thinking of the future impels us to take care of the ground right now, right where we are, because we are here, because this is our source, because our purpose in life is to bequeath life, not to unmake it. Jessie [Wirrpa] expressed such ideas as “true stories”—true accounts of the real world and our responsibilities as humans. True for humans everywhere, and true for other creatures as well …

… The profundity and simplicity of Jessie’s caring for country is, for me, an ethical claim. The future is not a promised land waiting for us to arrive, nor does it bear down on us. The future is in the ground. It is life, and it wants to come forth and flourish. The future is creation in everyday life, and like all everyday miracles, it is as fragile as it is resilient. We are members of creature communities, and our appropriate work is to honor the bequest by taking care of it so that the future can come forth. 

(Deborah Bird Rose, ‘So the Future Can Come Forth from the Ground’, in Kathleen Dean Moore & Michael P. Nelson (eds.) Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, Trinity University Press: San Antonio, Texas, 2010, pp. 155 and 157; my emphasis in bold)


  1. what a wonderful perspective! it really just makes sense. more and more i am convinced that the best ways forward lie in looking to our common ancient human (and non-human) past...

    1. I agree. We need to return to the wisdom of the "true stories".


Thank you for taking the time to comment. I love hearing from you.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...