What we leave behind

Most of us would like to leave a legacy of some sort that recognises our time on the planet has been meaningful. Thinking people want to leave the world a better place – either through successful, contributing children, improvements to the planet’s environment, towering monuments, advances in performance, social order or technology that make living more enjoyable for many.

Exits may take the form of the grand obituary of a state funeral or a modest plaque honoured by loving family. Rarely do the words conveyed on such occasions touch on, or reach into, the daily reality of the bequest in social pathology. Nor do they mention the challenge to become aware of the extent of deficit and the difficulty in actioning measures to overcome and avoid passing negative traits onto the third and fourth generation as scripture presciently predicts, with all the inherent disadvantages and dysfunction.

For wealthy (and not so wealthy) law-abiding families’ behaviours in complying with social norms, paying their way and becoming prosperous are learned implicitly, through day-to-day conduct, and explicitly, by direct learning and experience. Families like these, though imperfect as are we all, become the backbone of our society, social and economic multipliers spreading benefits more widely, down through generations.

Not everyone is so fortunate, though productive behaviours and prosperity must start somewhere. To break through from dysfunction and disadvantage takes four steps:

  • awareness that all is not well and could be different;
  • a strong desire for a better way of life;
  • knowledge and the openness and willingness to learn how to go about achieving the goal; and
  • action to break through for change that requires courage, drive, perseverance and commitment.

Mindful people cheer on such courageous efforts. Mindless others may be threatened. On the pathway to breakthrough success many impediments arise, especially from dysfunctional others for whom your progress raises a challenge to do likewise. The status quo may have reassurance of numbers. Courage and commitment are needed to drive through the nay-sayers and under-miners to reach out for the chosen goal. Greater confidence in your decision for action can be helped by using my Maturity Model to reaffirm the rightness of the choice for you.

It’s worthwhile looking at intergenerational behaviours that affect those who come after in order to gain an understanding of where and how a breakthrough is necessary.

Epigenetics of social pathology

Nature or nurture is a question commonly raised when considering negative behaviours. Science is beginning to understand the genetic predisposition of some to addiction, anxiety, depression and fear conditioning. That said, nurture has tremendous potential to modify adverse genetic traits and certainly influence more productive behaviours that would leave us better off. The jury may still be out on whether social pathology is transmitted through nature or nurture.


Roslyn Saunders counselling and book Emotional Sobriety: Finding raw courage to recover from Codependency, has gained in relevance as the list of co-dependencies grows, along with the rapid adoption of digital technology. Where once addiction to alcohol or smoking were the primary co-dependencies, now drugs, gambling, pornography, sex, gaming and screen addictions, facilitated by the rapid escalation of digital technology and services, consumes time and relationships, distorting reality and bodies alike, to our detriment. Where parents have no digital disciplines themselves, setting parameters for children’s use is hollow, bequeathing mindless capture to virtual reality.

A teacher reported student accessing lunchtime porn was a common pursuit, colouring students’ perception of the sexual roles of women, men, intimacy and respect. Overlong preoccupation with online activities is known to change synapses in the brain. Youth so consumed spending night after night online, unable to get up in the morning to go about ordinary activities, may emerge sapped of energy and physically and socially under-developed. Not what was envisaged when a beautiful whole child was born.


Early deprivation can lead to continuous acquisition and hording to overcome fear of scarcity Inability to ‘let go’ compounds to become a hazard. Hording is another form of co-dependency. Most of what is acquired is of little use or value. To take the antidote of having a few purposeful things that can be well used needs one to deal with the reality that deprivation has passed. Tackling the hierarchy of awareness, desire, knowledge and action is a pathway forward. Yet failure to address the issues means that we bequeath to our offspring similar mindless lack of discipline and awareness, at the same time as limiting our enjoyment and other’s enjoyment of us. What is sad is that hording habits may have been learned from our own parents and are likely to be repeated in our children.

Divisiveness, hatred and indifference

Divisiveness, hatred and indifference are a function of failure to adolesce that too easily becomes multi-generational. Seeking power and control over others by misrepresentation and manipulation has been shown to create divisive patterns of behaviour passed on through generations. Whereas had the great-grandparent chosen to develop, in adolescence, the enduring resources of intimacy and mutuality, tolerance, respect and flexibility, harmony down four generations of people would be much better, as it would for those drawn into the net. Breaking out of patterns needs awareness not found in power and control.

Similarly irrational hatred of a family member targeted by a parent can become a default position down the generations, even when the parent had passed on and the original cause forgotten. A reason is not needed, mindless slavery to habit will do.

It is ever so easy for busy professionals to assume indifference towards their elders. They may merely be emulating a father’s attitude towards the mother who had cared for him diligently for so much of his life. How one cares for elders as people, rather than problems, is a mark of adult maturity. Failure to do so is a sad bequest.


Those who habitually tell lies don’t have the courage to deal with reality – the only basis upon which personal, social and financial improvement can be made. Neither do they trust others with the truth. Patterns of lying and misrepresentation appear to become ingrained, often to make the teller seem greater or more important than they are in reality. Yet the very respect to which the liar aspires becomes elusive the more others become aware.


We are now dealing with multi-generational welfare dependency where for so many no one in the family has been employed for generations. It is a sad bequest of tragic unrealised potential. People in this situation may believe they do not have job skills, yet they are talented workers of Centrelink systems, ensuring maximum benefits are derived at every point. Because we have failed to expect contribution from them, they remain unaware of the contribution of others, who get up each day, go to work and pay taxes that support them. Ingratitude is rife.

For a child born into such an environment, it is doubly difficult to break through psychologically from enculturated patterns of welfare dependency to becoming a contributor. Educators and organisations are available with the knowledge how, should the awareness and desire be there to be nurtured. The Australian Indigenous Education Foundation and the Smith Family have had considerable success in helping realise the goals of disadvantaged young Australians.

In our hearts

The best of what we leave behind is that which is in our hearts – the courage to be honest about how good or bad a life/situation is and the willingness to have a crack at breaking through, out of inherited patterns of behaviour, to become our best selves and seeing our dreams realised in those who come after. Good luck with that!

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