Sunday, August 14, 2011

On legacy and time

Time is several things. It can be a measure of experience. The more we go through, the more time we feel has passed. The two weeks my class and I spent in Detroit felt like two months, because the sum of the experiences was tremendous. On the other hand, time might mean something very different for the Hadza in Tanzania, who lead hunter-gatherer lives. Michael Finkel, a journalist who spent time with the Hadza, met up with them in the following way. (I love this story.)

"Merely getting this far, to a traditional Hadza encampment, is not an easy task. Year's aren't the only unit of time the Hadza do not keep close track of  - they also ignore hours and days and weeks and months.n The Hadza language (Hadzane) doesn't have numbers past three or four. Making an appointment can be a tricky matter. But I had contacted the owner of a tourist camp not far outside the Hadza territory to see if he could arrange for me to spend time with a remote Hadza group. While on a camping trip in the bush, the owner came across Onwas (the eldest member of the group) and asked him, in Swahili, if I might visit. The Hadza tend to be gregarious people, and Onwas readily agreed. He said I'd be the first foreigner to ever visit the camp. He promised to send this son to a particular tree at the edge of the bush to meet me when I was scheduled to arrive, in three weeks.

Sure enough, three weeks later, when my interpreter and I arrived by Land Rover in the bush, there was Onwas's son Ngoala waiting for us. Apparently, Onwas had noted stages of the moon, and when he felt enough time had past, he sent his son to the tree. I asked Ngoala if he'd waited for a long time for me. 'No,' he said. 'Only a few days.'"

The Hadza have been living in the same place for tens of thousands of years, and are successfully living there right now. Does this have anything to do with how they perceive time?

What about when we are gone, those of us embedded in this degrading culture? What do we leave behind? Will our time on this Earth have mattered? Will our individual lives have mattered? What does time mean in this case? There seem to be two components of our legacy - a physical component, and a less physical, but more emotional and spiritual component. The physical component is comprised of things like trash and non-degradables, buildings and art. The emotional and spiritual component is comprised of what we strove to do with our lives, the impacts of our words and deeds.

When it comes down to it, what do we want to leave behind? I would hope that once we are gone, our physical impacts on this Earth should be as little as possible. Any imprint of our physical existence should decay quickly, or just not be there at all. Trash then becomes a massive problem. And anthropogenic climate change is a physical legacy, too. I would hope that where we once tread, only flowers return year after year, no toxicity, no degradation. What about the emotional and spiritual legacy? I would hope that the good work we do on this Earth, our words and our deeds, have a longer decay time than our physical legacy. But first and foremost, our work must be good, our deeds must be good, our thoughts and actions must be good.


  1. What if someone doesn't want to leave anything behind ?

  2. That is probably a pretty difficult thing to do =).