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200-Year Plan – How to construct a plan – 1a

ADDENDUM as of 2/5/09: While I am still excited about the materials I discuss in this post, it is with great sadness that I feel compelled to note I have discovered there are reasons for caution with respect to the sources referenced herein. [Indeed, though I don't think our daughter, who is mentioned in this post, was aware of the depth of the issues, clearly, she was "on the alert." --I guess I'm suggesting you, too, should probably be on the alert.] With respect to Vision Forum Ministries and Doug Phillips, I call your attention to the series of articles at Ministry Watchman and Jen’s Gems. And with respect to Geoff Botkin, see Who is Geoffrey Botkin? at the Under Much Grace blog.

[Continued discussion of Vision Forum Ministries' program titled The 200 Year Plan: A Practicum on Multi-Generational Faithfulness.]

Start talking about a 200-year plan, and you may find yourself faced with some major opposition! Here’s the story of my first opposition.

*****

I received a call yesterday from our eldest daughter. I had loaned the Vision Forum 200-Year Plan CD series to her, anticipating she would find it inspirational.

When I received her phone call, I realized she was not inspired. Instead, she was quite distressed!

“Dad, the more I listen to their talks, the more upset I become. . . .”

I will not try to reproduce the details of our conversation, but I do think I should convey some of the issues that we discussed.

First concern, it seemed: “What right do you have to be trying to plan for or predict our futures?” (I am not conveying the words our daughter used. I am trying to express her sentiments.) Along the same lines: “What good does it do to even ‘guesstimate’ birth and marriage and death dates?”

Reply:

  • I am not trying to predict the future. I am attempting to get a sense of the likely and/or desirable contours of the future. I have never even considered the contours of the future, before, beyond the next couple of years. . . .
     
  • I think working through the general contours of a potential future is like working the proverbial “lump of clay” I often talk about. I’m trying to make my mind malleable to what God may want to do through us–i.e., through our family. (I reminded Amy of how, when I first proposed that we create a new/second brand and, to accomplish that, we created a “holding company” for all our brands–Sonlight, plus all future brands, most of us continued to think and talk solely about our original brand, Sonlight. It took several years before we began to think and plan for InquisiCorp, the holding company with all of the brands. So, too, then, I expect, with a 200-year plan. It will take us quite a while to “get our minds around” the idea. But I sense it will prove useful.)
     
  • I really don’t have a clear idea–indeed, I have almost no idea–what I would like to see in 200 years . . . primarily because, as I have said, I haven’t really thought about the idea before. But, as I just said, I sense it will be useful. And I would certainly like our family to talk about these things!

I mentioned to Amy that, even last Friday, when we last met with our legacy planners, because I had begun to think about a 200-year future, a certain comment that one of our planners made struck me with a force I don’t think I would have felt before. Specifically, we were talking about our kids’ inheritances. We were looking at a flowchart that showed the kids receiving inheritances, at our deaths, way beyond anything either Sarita our I have ever imagined. And worse, from my perspective, or, certainly, more significant: I was really bothered that they would receive all this value at our deaths–i.e., most likely, when our kids would be quite old–rather than now, while they are young, and the inheritance might actually be able to help them achieve something useful.

Our legacy planner noted, first, that though there was a high dollar figure attached to their inheritances, the kids would not actually receive any money. Instead, they would receive stock in our company. “And if they don’t work on the company,” he said, “the stock could go to zero. In fact,” he continued, “it could go to zero tomorrow. . . . What if the government outlawed homeschooling?”

That last comment about the government possibly outlawing homeschooling jolted me. I thought, “Wow! If we believe in what we are doing with Sonlight (and we do), and if we believe its work should offer value to customers 200 years from now (which I think it should), and if, therefore, we want Sonlight to stay in business (which I believe we should), then we probably need to set aside some resources for the purpose of appealing to the government if and as that may be necessary.”

It’s kind of a small example, but, as I say, I don’t think I would have even begun to think about these things if I wasn’t already in the 200-year mode of thought.

I made two other comments to Amy.

  1. “Do you realize that, by 2090 or 2100 at the latest, barring some truly astonishing miracle, not a single member of our current generations–Mom and I and you kids, i.e. the members of your generation–will still be alive? Not exactly sure what the significance of that observation is, but I find it a bit sobering. It makes me think: How am I going to maximize the use of the remainder of my days?”
     
  2. “I think about the ‘kids’ I list for each of you children. I indicated four children for most of you (four grandchildren through each of you when considered from our perspective). Please know, I am not attempting to put any pressure on you to have four children. I am not ‘predicting’ four children. But I think I am ‘saying’ something. I am conveying a message of some type. Among other things: ‘Mom and I believe children are good; they are “a heritage of the Lord”; please don’t despise having children!’ “

Please understand I am way oversimplifying the full breadth and depth of Amy’s and my conversation. But I want you to have a feel for the flavor of what we talked about.

Second concern: “I can hardly stand to to listen to Doug Phillips and Geoff Botkin. . . .”

“Why?”

I’m going to conflate and condense her answer. It took me a while to realize and suggest–so that she could affirm or deny–that the things she was concerned about sounded like they were coming from something she had in her mind going in to reading my posts and listening to the CDs. It sounded like some kind of prejudice on her part; she was expecting to “see” bad things in Phillips’ and Botkin’s messages.

She agreed that was probably true.

So again I asked: “Why? What leads you to expect them to be saying things that will offend you?”

And at that point, she brought things to my attention of which I had been unaware.

Most particularly, she said, she has been reading some articles by Michael Pearl (a not uncontroversial figure!) . . . and she had been reading some rather heated comments on the Sonlighters Club forums by people who say they have either experienced the things Pearl talks about or are intimately familiar with people who are enduring the kinds of abuses Pearl mentions. . . . And, said Amy, many of these abuses can be traced back directly to Doug Phillips and Vision Forum.

“Look at Pearl’s most recent article,” Amy said. [The article she referenced is titled neo-legalists.”

I followed through on Amy’s links. Beyond Patriarchal Dysfunctional Families, Part 2, see also the first article in the series: Cloistered Homeschool Syndrome, Ministry Watchman.com’s “Patriarchy” page, and the angry critique by a woman who “got burned” by some of the leaders of the modern homeschool and patriarchy movements and won a federal antitrust lawsuit against them: I Name the Patriarchs, Part I.

As I read this material, I began to understand why Amy was so concerned about my proposed 200-year plan. She was afraid I was going to “go Patriarchal” in the kind of awful sense one might expect based on the critiques contained in these articles. She was afraid I might attempt to smother my kids, their children after them, and their children’s children after them through some kind of overbearing “patriarchal pressure from the top.” . . .

“Amy,” I said. “I have no intention of ‘defining’ for you (or any of my progeny) ‘what you should do.’ But I do think it could be helpful for us to talk–as you and I are doing right now–about our hopes and dreams and aspirations and how we might work together as a family toward common objectives.”

I didn’t quote to her from James Hughes (especially from Family), but I wanted to.

As I have noted in the past–indeed, in the context of the 200-Year Plan–Hughes speaks of “families of affinity.” [Besides the link I have just offered, see also Thinking Seven Generations into the Future.]

Hughes writes (as I quoted in the first-referenced post, above),

All families begin by an affinity of two people who seek to begin a common journey. As soon as a family begins to think of itself as related by blood, it has . . . based its idea of family on a fallacy [and become] a closed system. To be part of that system, all members must be of the same blood. [But, of course, that is impossible. You have to permit others to "marry in."]. . . .

When a family thinks of itself as a family of affinity, it is defining itself as an open system. It is a family system that declares that anyone who loves its stories and embraces its value system is welcome to join. Such a family knows that for its own well-being, each generation must bring in more energy than it loses. It also recognizes that some members related by blood will not care to join in its journey.

–pp. 21-22; emphasis added

Taking another point from Hughes:

One excellent measure of how likely a family is to succeed is the nature of its commitment to its members. Does it ask, “What can each of us in the family do to enhance your individual journey of happiness before we ask you to help the family?” Or does it declare, “Help us and then we might help you”?

This is a most pernicious paradox because it seems logical to put the welfare of the family first. Indeed, there are invariably lots of things a family would like to have new members do for the good of the family. But no human being will voluntarily join any organization unless he first perceives that he will be enhanced by it before having to contribute to it. . . .

In families that fail, the prevailing ethic is not about enhancing the individual’s journey toward happiness; it’s about living out someone else’s dream. Trapped in a system in which there is no way to individuate or differentiate, the human spirit declines.

ibid., p. 23

The point is: as far as I’m concerned, a 200-Year Plan should be all about attracting family members to common objectives, purposes, dreams, values, and so forth. It ought not to be at all about “forcing” family members to conform to some “program” that the “patriarch” has established for his family . . . nor should it be about drowning individual members’ gifts or talents or callings or interests under the weight of the “prior” calling or interest of the “patriarch.”

It may be about all of us, together, seeking to bring our individual callings and interests, as much as reasonable and useful and possible, into line one with another to achieve a common dream. I believe it should be about seeking to discover any commonalities of calling and interest so that we can work more effectively together. . . .

*****

As I think about my conversation with Amy, I realize I have to convince Amy–and, potentially, the rest of our kids–that my desire to plan for the future is not, by any means, self-seeking, and it is not about establishing a monolithic, leviathan-like dream to which all future members of the family must swear allegiance.

It is, instead, about discovering what we believe we can and should seek to do together as a family . . . with a strong concern and determination to ensure the good of everyone who agrees to be involved.

*****

I wrote to Amy after our phone conversation:

Reading the letters in Patriarchal Dysfunctional Families, Part 2, I can see how and why you would be so desperately concerned about where I am going with my proposal to create a 200-Year Plan. With these kinds of stories “ringing in your ears,” as it were, I can understand your fear that I might be trying to set up some kind of “law of the Medes and Persians” that I might expect all of “my” progeny to follow. . . .

And the upshot of all this?

  • Thank you for calling this morning.
  • As I said at the end of our conversation, let’s keep talking with one another.
  • Let’s be wise, but let’s not “walk in fear.”
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