What is your 'rice'?
So many resonated deeply with my recent conversation with John Hausdoerffer, Ph.D., that I wanted to weave in some of the most profound questions the episode has inspired me to ponder. Specifically, there are two questions, which are related.
What kind of ancestor do I want to be? What is my “rice”?
You're likely to have heard this question before: “What kind of a legacy do I want to leave behind?” It's a common inquiry raised within the dominant culture to help people gain a longer-term perspective on life and one's purpose.
There are, of course, many ways to interpret this. But I was curious to consider how the question of ancestry differed from this question of legacy—and the types of values that each might orient us towards.
To these points, Dr. Hausdoerffer shares (based on his own views and learnings):
“I've stopped using the word [legacy]—that is attached to ego and a desire to imprint one's mind on the world beyond death, which I think is a dangerous impulse.
I recently held a conversation with a group called The Conscious Elders in Palo Alto, California, and a woman who showed up had just come from doing her will with her husband and lawyer, to our ancestry conversation. Talk about a moment of wrestling with legacy.
What was cool was she said in the meeting that she had talked her husband out of setting money aside to freeze his brain so he can someday become AI. She convinced him to reinvest that into buying land so they can teach their children how to steward a piece of land.
I think that's the difference between legacy and ancestry, because the children are going to have to learn from the soil and the trees, the wildlife, the flora and fauna, and the shifting climate, and build a sort of regenerative practice that is not about them but about their relationship with land.
To me, ancestry is about relationships, whereas legacy is about self-expression.”
I'm still sitting with the question of how much one's desire to “leave an imprint on the world”, to “make our marks”, is about the human ego. Again, one's impact can be framed in various ways. But I think there is truth in the perspective that legacy is more egocentric, whereas considering the kind of ancestor we wish to be, shifts us into a mindset rooted in relationality—what we do for future generations, regardless of whether we are remembered in a direct manner.
This brings in the next reflection: What is your “rice”?
The invitation is incomplete without the context of what the “rice” refers to. Interestingly, this need for the fuller picture parallels with the message at its core—that in order for us to really grapple with the question of the kinds of ancestors we wish to be, we must situate ourselves within the broader contexts of the communities and landscapes we are or yearn to be a part of.
Dr. Hausdoerffer explains:
“When I was on the White Earth Reservation, listening to Michael Dahl who posed this question [of ancestry] to me, he was getting at that his most important ancestor was wild rice. What he was saying was that wild rice teaches them how to live in every way.
Wild Rice is part of his cosmology because in their legends, a leader had a dream that told him to move the people west until they arrived at the food that grew on the water. It's part of their cosmology. It’s part of their diet. It's a super food. It's part of their economy... It's part of their ecological relationship because by going out there in their canoes, he says, they groom the lake and help germinate and re-enliven the rice. So they're almost like a healthy disturbance, if you think about resilience theory. Suddenly, you have humans in the role of a low intensity disturbance that is helping the ecosystem.
In all of these ways, he said, ‘I am not Anishinaabe without wild rice in my stomach during the wild rice moon in September.’
What that tells me is that the kind of ancestor you want to be is measured by the land.
It's measured by whether or not you set in motion a system of values, whether or not you set in motion communities that allow for people of the future to still have ‘wild rice’ in their stomach during the wild rice moon in September.
The better way of asking it, a less abstract and more place-based way of asking ‘What kind of ancestor do you want to be?’ is to ask: ‘What is my rice?’ What is my version of Michael Dahl's wild rice that allows for the land to be both the barometer of our behavior as ancestors, if we’ve behaved in a way that allows for there to be wild rice in the future? […]
Literally, the land is a barometer for how you've lived as an ancestor.”
These are the two questions I'd love to invite you to ponder and meditate on this week and beyond.
What kind of ancestor do you want to be? And what is your “rice”?
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If you're inspired by today’s post, you may appreciate the book series that John Hausdoerffer, Ph.D. co-edited, titled Kinship: Belonging in a world of relations.
This past Wednesday, I welcomed Rob Greenfield to UPROOTED (live). We talked about moving away from the monetary system, his decision to voluntarily live under the poverty threshold and the ‘privileges’ he has which makes it feasible for him, how his views have evolved over the years (since we last interviewed him two years ago on Green Dreamer), and more. Tap in here!
Next week, I'm speaking with two water protectors on O’ahu. Info on how to join these live podcasts can be found here.