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Seven generations

City Year’s idealistic culture includes a growing collection of stories and quotations from many cultures that we call “Founding Stories.” These Stories, which we consider to be gifts to our organization, are a foundation for our work and provide values to guide us, set us on course and remind us of the most fundamental motivations for our work.

We share the Founding Stories with each other often and apply them to our work each and every day. We would like to share The Seven Generations Founding Story with you.

“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 decision making. 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 yard stick of human experience.”

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