Home Concepts Adult Development Essay XIX: The Heritage Drive—Extending Legacy in Time

Essay XIX: The Heritage Drive—Extending Legacy in Time

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Safeguarding a tradition seems to be at the heart of what George Vaillant means when writing about “guardianship,” although we suspect that he did not intend to limit himself to this often -reactionary motivation. While the safeguarding function can be nothing more than hesitancy to accept change and a reaction against anything new, it also can be founded in a strong commitment to keeping what is good in a society. This motive is prevalent in one of eight forms of contemporary Generativity Three (preservation of values) that we will describe later in this chapter.

In essence, a tradition is safeguarded in one of five ways. First, it can be preserved by ensuring that nothing changes in the system; we set up a fortress, buttress it, and make certain nothing will “pollute” or “water-down” the tradition; we see this form of safeguarding in the policies of many countries that place severe restrictions on immigration. We also find in the constant monitoring of theological and ideological conformity by some religious sects and political groups. Strict enforcement often leads to the splintering of these groups over minor differences of opinion. Unfortunately, this form of preservation often results in not just splintering, but ultimately the death of the system itself. Theorists tell us that systems which are closed and have very heavy boundaries cannot survive; there must be openness and permeable boundaries if a system is to remain viable. Diverse input (ideas, products, sources of energy) must be available to the system, especially if it is to remain creatively adaptive (Stacey, 1996; Page, 2011)

A second strategy for safeguarding a tradition is found in the process of discernment: which elements of the tradition should be preserved, and which should be discarded? This process is quite challenging. As behavioral economists (Kahneman, 2011; Ariely, 2008) have repeated shown, we tend to hold on to what we already have. The joy we anticipate from successfully doing something new is much less motivating than the sorrow we anticipate from losing something we already possess. Even more painful is the regret we anticipate after having given away or lost something that once was of great value to us.

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