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City Year Founding Story: Seven Generations

Art by Brie O'Malley

In every deliberation, we must consider the impact of our decisions on the next seven generations.

– Iroquois Proverb

The Iroquois nation, a confederation of Native American peoples, wrote in their constitution more than 500 years ago that leaders must “Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations” and that “the thickness of their skin shall be seven spans” to protect against “anger, offensive actions, and criticism” from affecting their making the best decisions.

These commitments of stewardship for future generations and moral toughness are a profound formula for ensuring intergenerational responsibility by considering the well-being of those who do not yet have a voice, but who may nonetheless be affected by our decisions today. As one commentator has observed, “The point [of considering seven generations] is to remove individual self-interests from public decisionmaking. Seven generations is about the longest period of time that we can grasp subjectively. Some of us had great grandparents when we were born. We have known our grandparents, our parents, and ourselves. We may also know our children, our grandchildren, and possibly our great grandchildren. These seven generations are a yardstick of human experience.”

About the Artist: Brie O’Malley works at City Year Headquarters as the Regional Recruitment Director for the Northeast Region. She and her husband recently returned to New England after many years in New York City. She said, “I wanted to depict the Seven Generations founding story from a global perspective, since so many of our decisions have potential worldwide impact. For that reason, I chose patterns inspired by locations across the globe to dress the seven Russian Matryoshka nesting dolls.”