A Message to Future Generations

Here is a thought experiment for you:

Imagine you are famous. Because of your renown, you are given a chance to leave a message every future human will receive in 1000 years.

What would you say?

You have two minutes to say it, but as much time as you want to choose your words.

I’d suggest you make it short. You do have some competition in this department — from Bertrand Russell.

Lord Russell (1872 – 1970) was one of those impossibly famous people. Just to name a few aspects of his remarkable life, he was a British philosopher, mathematician, logician, and public intellectual. He even did a small amount of time in Brixton Prison because of his pacifist opposition to England’s involvement in World War I.

Talk about making a principled stand!

Not to be broken by the experience, Russell made his time in confinement useful:

I found prison in many ways quite agreeable. I had no engagements, no difficult decisions to make, no fear of callers, no interruptions to my work. I read enormously; I wrote a book, ‘Introduction to Mathematical Philosophy’… and began the work for ‘The Analysis of Mind’. I was rather interested in my fellow-prisoners, who seemed to me in no way morally inferior to the rest of the population, though they were on the whole slightly below the usual level of intelligence as was shown by their having been caught.

Russell was a man who turned a defeat into opportunity and found humor in it.

On the BBC TV interview show Face to Face in 1959, Russell was asked the question I posed to you.

His two-minute message to the future was in two parts: intellectual and moral. Now you can leave whatever message you wish in whatever format.

Take courage, my friends! I’m here to listen and might even take a crack at coming up with my own answer to the big question.

But even now, I’d say this:

If our species doesn’t make it 1000 years, it will be because we didn’t take the great man’s advice.


P.S. I’d add a brief bit to Russell, with apologies to his ghost and with thanks to those who have or will have given his words some thought.

For centuries, the world has had in mind a very lofty goal — to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” As Freud suggested, this might ask too much of us, a dream we’ve failed to achieve. But perhaps we should shoot for something more modest: to respect our neighbor, be kind, and hold back our judgment and anger until we put ourselves in his shoes.

One more thing. Property and material objects have limits in their ability to produce the happiness everyone wants. We have been persuaded that more is better while our fellowmen go hungry and homeless.

We will do better to the extent we think of ourselves as custodians of physical objects and the planet we call our home. Material things will break down, but we mustn’t treat the earth the same way. We have it on loan.

Like curators of fine art, we must treat it gently and work to return it and our environment to the state best disposed to allow our ancestors and all the world’s flora and fauna to live. Without life, there can be no “after” life.

21 thoughts on “A Message to Future Generations

  1. I’m not sure I could ever say anything more profound than the words of Lord Russell. Clearly he was a wise man who knew how to get to the point effectively Dr. Stein!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I suspect he’d either been asked the question before or thought about it as he aged and reflected on what the world needed. It remains timely even after more than 60 years. I agree, Deb — his answer couldn’t have been better. Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing, Dr. Stein. Russell’s wisdom about avoiding ‘diversion’ – what we WISH to believe, vs. the facts – is ever, evergreen and powerful. Somehow, I missed that part of the interview when I ran across it years ago. I did recall ‘love is wise, hatred is foolish’ quote. Straightforward, simple and beautiful…and it gives me hope. I don’t know that I’d have two minutes of wisdom of my own to share. Maybe just this: Love is everything. 💖

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I would love to hear your answer to the “big question”. Care to share?


  4. Oh, this reminds me of a question in Frederick Buechner’s meditation book Listening to Your Life: If you had to write a last message for the few people that you care about the most in 25 words or less, what would it be?

    It’s hard to follow class acts and big thinkers like Bertrand Russell, Frederick Buechner, and Dr. Gerald Stein when they through down gauntlets like this. But definitely a worthwhile thought experiment!


    • Kind of you, Wynne, but I am sure this is the first and last time anyone will put me in any list that includes Russell and Buechner unless it was something like “he was a male!” That said, you and others have prompted me to add to Russell’s answer.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wise words, indeed, from Bertrand Russell: (1) focus on the facts of the matter at hand and (2) our survival rests on mutual charity and tolerance. It’s sad to observe that we’ve learned nothing since then. Instead, we in the USA seemed to have dug deeper trenches on both sides of the divide. I would add only: to know oneself to seek the truth with an open mind and heart (not quite the same as focusing on the facts).


  6. Thank you, Rosaliene. Your addition to Russell is much appreciated. I’ve added a few more words of my own at the bottom of the post.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Well now. Thank you, Dr. Stein. The goals…striving to withhold judgment and anger are striking additions, given the urgent need. I love that you’ve lowered the bar…if not love for thy neighbor, then respect – consideration? That makes so much sense to me, just as your custodial thoughts when it comes to material objects and yearnings for happiness. Curators. Yes…of all things – material and matters of the heart, humanity. Beautiful. And I think your additions speak to me loud and clear at this moment because of people we’ve lost recently, within our family circle. Their lives, from the outside looking in? Luxe and comfortable but the pain that no one could see? Inflicted by those close to them — anger, neglect, thoughtlessness? Unnecessary. And so very difficult to bear witness to. Cheers to you for bringing love and goodness today. 💖

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So sorry about the loss of dear ones, Vicki. I hope the days ahead bring solace. I am glad, at least, that my words have provided distraction from your bereavement.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. Indeed they have! Appreciate you. ❤️🙂❤️


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