Seven Generations

Regardless of the newfangled (and seemingly endless) jargon associated with systems thinking, the fundamentals of the discipline are not ‘new’ at all. Consider how this teaching from Iroquois oral tradition inherently instructs leaders to adopt a ‘systems’ worldview and posture:

In all of your deliberations in the Confederate Council, in your efforts at law making, in all your official acts, self interest shall be cast into oblivion. Cast not over your shoulder behind you the warnings of the nephews and nieces should they chide you for any error or wrong you may do, but return to the way of the Great Law which is just and right. Look and listen for the welfare of the whole people and have always in view not only the present but also the coming generations, even those whose faces are yet beneath the surface of the ground – the unborn of the future Nation.1

Oren Lyons (b. 1930), an Iroquois faithkeeper, describes the responsibility leadership as one of analyzing longterm impact: how will this decision affect those who come seven generations later?

We are looking ahead, as is one of the first mandates given to us as chiefs, to make sure and to make every decision that we make relate to the welfare and well-being of the seventh generation to come, and that is the basis by which we make decisions in council. We consider: will this be to the benefit of the seventh generation?2

Would your work look different if you adopted a mandate to consider how your actions today might affect the children of the seventh generation?


  1. The Great Law of Peace, Iroquois Confederacy, article 28. See http://www.indigenouspeople.net/iroqcon.htm 

  2. Oren Lyons, in Vecsey, Christopher (ed) & Venables, Robert W (ed). (1980). American Indian Environments: Ecological Issues in Native American History. New York: Syracuse University Press. pp. 173-4 


Cite this page:
Shelley, James. (2020). 'Seven Generations' (in System Thinker Notebook). Originally published on August 5, 2020. Accessed on September 29, 2020. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. Permalink: https://jamesshelley.com?p=17213
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This page is currently a subsection of 'Thought Experiments' in the System Thinker Notebook manuscript. Structure and document location subject to change. Use https://jamesshelley.com?p=17213 as permanent identifier for this document if linking externally.

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