In a recent On Being with Krista Tippett show — “How Change Happens, In Generational Time” (June 7, 2018) — John Paul Lederach (a senior fellow at Humanity United, a project of the Omidyar Foundation, and professor emeritus of International Peacebuilding at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies at the University of Notre Dame) tells this story about his mentor Elise Boulding:
“I think it took us a long time to get from the writing of a Constitution to the Civil War; it’s taking a long time to come to the full understanding of how deep that actually was and how it’s left remnants. One of my big — most meaningful mentors that I had was Elise Boulding, who was one of the pioneer women of the peace studies field. Kenneth and Elise were a Quaker couple. And Elise always — she had this phrase about the 200-year present, and I think it might be useful, for us, to think about the current moment in reference to how she would frame the 200-year present. We students would be walked through this very simple exercise. You can do it right now, in the next two minutes. So here it comes.
“If you just calculate, for a minute — so when she said ‘present,’ she meant, like, past, present, future. And she’s saying, you live in a 200-year present. So if you go back to when you — at your youngest age that you can remember, who the oldest person was that held you, and then just calculate back to their birthdate, roughly. Mine would carry from Great-Grandma Miller, would go back into the 1850s — actually, into the period close to the Civil War. And then you do the second part of the process, which is, you think about the youngest member of your extended family — minus two months. And then imagine a robust life — to what decade might she or he live? And then she would always say to us, once we’ve done all this kind of work, she would look at us and say, ‘You were held and touched, and you will touch the lives, of people that cover a 200-year present.'”
Who lives in your “200-year present”? What are their stories? How have they shaped your life?
How can imaging ourselves in “a 200-year present” give us a valuable perspective on change and the time frame for social transformation?
Listen to the entire show here.
Read “Why We Tell Our Stories” for an introduction to an interview with Thuli Nhlapo, author of Colour me yellow: Searching for my family truth.