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Book Summary: Longpath – Becoming the Great Ancestors Our Future Needs – an Antidote for Short-Termism

Longpath (2022) is written to change the way you think about humankind. By teaching the lessons of the Longpath mentality, it shows how to break the bad habit of short-term thinking and embrace a mentality that helps connect humanity’s past, present, and future in order to make a better world.

Book Summary: Longpath - Becoming the Great Ancestors Our Future Needs - an Antidote for Short-Termism

Content Summary

Genres
Introduction: Discover how to reshape your thinking to enrich your life and help generations to come.
Given our present challenges, humanity needs a new way to think about the world
Short-term thinking is counter-productive, and must be replaced by long-term considerations
To build a better world, we need to cultivate transgenerational empathy
The “official future” is flawed – we must embrace intentional and inclusive thinking to forge a better future
To change the world for our descendants, we need to cooperate with one another today
Summary
About the author
Table of Contents
Overview
Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award
Video and Podcast

Genres

Technology and the Future, Society, Culture, Philosophy, History, Business Decision Making, Decision-Making and Problem Solving, Happiness Self-Help

Introduction: Discover how to reshape your thinking to enrich your life and help generations to come.

When you hear the word “futurist,” the Iroquois Confederacy probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. But these First Nations people were futurists in their own right, albeit more than half a millenia in the past.

The Iroquois were long-term thinkers. Their founding document implored them to consider the welfare of the entire community in each decision they made. It also urged them to think about the impact of their choices on the coming generations.

The author and academic, Ari Wallach, wants us to embrace what he calls the the “Longpath mentality.” This approach is quite similar to the thinking of the Iroquois. Reimagining our wisdom can help us build a better future now; one that replaces short-term thinking with a forward-looking vision of humanity.

The impact of our choices today will reverberate far into the future, from the environmental impact of our cars, to the way our parenting style will affect how our children interact with their children. To better consider these long-term consequences, we need to broaden and lengthen our perspective.

By embracing the Longpath mentality, we can enrich our own lives, and help make the world a more harmonious place. This summary will cover why Longpath is well-suited to the present moment. It will also explain how we can alter our thinking to change the world, and how we can put those thoughts into practice.

Given our present challenges, humanity needs a new way to think about the world

Humanity is in the midst of an Intertidal – a term author Ari Wallach uses to represent a crucial period of monumental change.

And when we say crucial, we mean Enlightenment and Industrial Revolution-level crucial. The kind of seismic shifts that alter the world for centuries. So, if we are currently in the middle of an Intertidal, how did we get here?

Globalization is one reason. Climate change is another, as is the rapid pace of changes in technology. But it’s more than just these forces. It’s a marked shift in cultural attitudes, too. The way people have thought about the world for generations is shifting.

The influence of organized religion is waning, and there’s a contest to determine what might take its place. Foundational ideas of freedom, justice, and equality are being reconsidered through a 21st century lens.

This moment presents a unique opportunity to rewrite the rules of civilization. This may sound a bit jarring, but it doesn’t have to be.

It’s true, Intertidals are chaotic. But it’s precisely this chaos that creates a unique opportunity for lasting change. According to Nobel Laureate and complexity theorist Ilya Prigogine, systems often shift from periods of immense chaos to order and equilibrium. Whether this new equilibrium is better or worse than the present is up to us.

Some Intertidals represent a step backward, like the collapse of the Roman Empire that ushered in the bleakness of the Middle Ages. This is probably not something we want to repeat. Others, like the Scientific Revolution, have helped propel humanity forward.

So, how do we turn the chaos of today into a better world? We must reject short-termism, and instead embrace our capacity for empathy, cooperation, and looking ahead. We must understand that our choices today will have ripple effects for generations. We must accept our role in the broader story of humanity.

By adopting the Longpath mentality, we can lead happier lives. But Longpath isn’t simply about self-improvement. It’s also about building a better future for posterity.

If we reject toxic short-term thinking and prioritize the future, we can achieve both. Here’s how to build a future our descendants will thank us for.

Short-term thinking is counter-productive, and must be replaced by long-term considerations

Society is awash with short-term thinking. Part of this is natural, as humans have an instinctual desire to take advantage of immediate benefits in order to survive. This may have served hunter-gatherers well, but today, this instinct is often a hindrance.

This harmful kind of short-termism afflicts individuals, societies, and the systems around us. It’s what compels people to eat unhealthy foods, businesses to pollute the environment, and developers to build entire neighborhoods in flood-prone regions.

In many ways, technology has only made short-term thinking more pervasive. Consider the effect of social media on the way many adolescents behave. Kids have always had the desire to be liked and to fit in with their peers. Today, however, a young person’s social standing is usually measured in likes, clicks, and views.

Each thumbs up or thumbs down emoji floods the brain with chemicals, filling a person with momentary pleasure or anguish. Chasing this kind of instant feedback is no way to develop the habits that make someone a productive, empathetic member of society.

Luckily, there is a three step method we all can use to recognize and disrupt this and other kinds of short-term thinking.

First, pay attention to how the bad habit of short-term thinking makes you feel. Consider how your actions affect your mood and the impact they have on others. For example, if that tweet you just sent isn’t going to be of use to anyone in a week, a month, or a year, then it probably wasn’t necessary.

Second, believe you can do better. New research has shown that the brain is more changeable than previously thought. This neuroplasticity means that simply changing our mentality about something can put us on the path to positive change. For example, if we think that we can become a better student, parent, or partner, this makes it more likely that we actually will.

Third, cultivate your Longpath mentality. Developing feelings of gratitude, awe, and empathy are especially important. These emotions allow us to better connect with others, including our ancestors and posterity. So, take a moment to marvel at a classic work of art, or consider the sacrifices your grandparents must have made for their descendants.

Exercises like these foster an appreciation for others. Doing so helps us ward off short-term thinking and allows us to focus on making decisions that have a lasting positive impact.

To build a better world, we need to cultivate transgenerational empathy

In the previous section, we explained the Longpath mentality. Now, we’re going to explain the role of empathy in our new way of thinking.

To achieve the Longpath mentality, transgenerational empathy is key. This simply means recognizing the connections between humanity’s past, present, and future, and caring about how our actions today will help reshape the world. When we practice this kind of empathy, it becomes easier to shift from short-termism to long-term objectives.

How can we practice this mentality? First, we must have empathy for our ancestors. This means acknowledging that the past has helped shape who we are today. It also requires grappling with the uglier parts of human history in order to learn and grow.

Consider South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Rather than hiding from the horrors of racial apartheid, South Africa confronted them. The commission allowed survivors to tell their stories, and enabled the guilty parties to accept responsibility, seek forgiveness, and move forward. This example illustrates how honesty and compassion can join forces to lead to healing.

The second ingredient is self-compassion. This means understanding that we are imperfect. It also requires understanding that we have the capacity to do better. Instead of becoming defensive when we mess up, we can own up to our mistakes and learn from them.

To complete transgenerational empathy, we also need to consider generations to come. We impact the future, even the distant future, through our legacies. When we consider posterity in our present choices, we can leave a positive legacy for our descendants.

It’s important to understand that this kind of empathy can happen at levels large and small. Some countries, like Sweden, have a Ministry of the Future. Some companies like Amazon leave an empty chair at board meetings as a symbol of posterity. Some families reserve a spot at the dinner table for the next generation. All these gestures represent a vital regard for the future, and the people who will inhabit it.

The “official future” is flawed – we must embrace intentional and inclusive thinking to forge a better future

Empathy for the next generation helps us care about what happens in the future. But how do we need to think about the future in order to make it better?

Every culture is bombarded with ideas of what the future is supposed to look like. Art, literature, and politics all indicate which way the world is supposedly headed. Scholars refer to these narratives as the “official future.”

But the truth is, society can’t be pigeonholed into one official future. We have to instead understand that many possible paths lie ahead of us. We can choose where we’re headed, not have the future of civilization foisted upon us.

Once we establish our power to shape the future, we have to be intentional in our thinking. It isn’t enough to say what we don’t want, like the dystopias in works of science fiction. We have to think creatively enough to envision the world that we do want. These potential worlds are called the examined, desired futures.

In addition to intentionality, we also need inclusive thinking. We need to imagine a world where all people have the opportunity to flourish, where success is measured by more than material welfare, and where the interests of generations to come are considered, too.

To better understand what this kind of thinking means in practice, let’s consider the village of Hogewey, near Amsterdam. On the surface, Hogewey resembles any other village. There are houses, shops, restaurants, and public parks. Seems pretty ordinary, right?

What makes Hogewey extraordinary is that it’s a community for people with Alzheimers’ disease. Rather than putting patients in glorified hospitals, the staff and volunteers at Hogewey allow its residents to maintain normality in their lives, despite their condition.

Hogewey defied the official future that said Alzheimers’ patients must be confined to nursing homes. Its founder, Yvonne van Amerongen, chose to think intentionally and inclusively about a place where residents’ dignity was a top priority. This is what an examined, desired future looks like in practice.

To change the world for our descendants, we need to cooperate with one another today

Adopting the Longpath mentality on our own is great. In order to reshape the future for generations, though, we need to work together now.

To scale up the Longpath mentality above the individual level, we have to affect our unique spheres of influence. This includes influencing our families, friends, and colleagues.

Here are four strategies for Longpath cooperation: vision, conversation, facilitation, and ways of being. Let’s discuss each in turn.

Having a novel vision of the future can help shake up the status quo. As far-fetched as your vision may seem, it might inspire someone to make it a reality. You know that iPhone in everyone’s pocket? According to Steve Jobs, it was inspired, in part, by the futuristic video-calling technology of Star Trek and The Jetsons.

If you’re not exactly the visionary type, simply starting a conversation can work, too. Whether it’s around the dinner table, the conference room, or anywhere else, don’t be afraid to discuss how to make the world a better place. Just make sure to speak and listen with empathy.

If you can, you might even consider facilitating a forum for exchanging ideas. This might seem daunting, but it’s possible. In 2008, Aruba brought together 50,000 residents to discuss the future and develop a national strategy for sustainability. You might develop a program on a smaller scale in your own community.

We can also foster connection and cooperation through our small, day-to-day actions. These subtle ways of being can cause chain reactions that have big impacts. So, try to be polite and gracious to others. Make eye contact when you speak to someone. Strike up a friendly conversation with your neighbor. Do things to give people the sense that we’re in this together – because we are.

Summary

The decisions we make today, both individually and collectively, are going to shape humanity’s future. In order to build a better world, we must reject short-termism and embrace a new way of thinking, known as Longpath. This new mentality will be oriented toward long-term human flourishing. To achieve this, we must become more empathetic. Toward our ancestors, toward posterity, and even toward our own shortcomings. We must also be creative and inclusive in the way we address some of the world’s most pressing problems like hunger, disease, and climate change. If we work together, we can design a future that will make the coming generations proud.

About the author

ARI WALLACH is a futurist and the founder and Executive Director of Longpath Labs. As adjunct associate professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs, he lectured on innovation, AI, and the futures of public policy. Wallach’s TED talk on Longpath has been viewed 2.5 million times and translated into 21 languages. He has written for outlets like the BBC and Wired, ran Fast Company magazine’s “FactCo Futures with Ari Wallach,” and has been featured in The New Times, Yahoo Finance, CNBC, CNN, Vox, and more. www.longpath.org

Ari Wallach | Facebook @longpath.org
Ari Wallach | Twitter @AriW
Ari Wallach | Instagram @ariw

ARI WALLACH

Table of Contents

Prologue 1
Chapter 1 Living What Longpath Is and Why We Need It 5
Chapter 2 Changing How What Worked Then Won’t Work Now 37
Chapter 3 Practicing Looking Backward, Inward, and Forward 59
Chapter 4 Creating Futures and How We Make Them 97
Chapter 5 Flourishing Working Together for a Better World 135
Epilogue 165
Longpath Megatrends 169
Journal Pages 171
Acknowledgments 179
Notes 183

Overview

A paradigm-shifting manifesto for transforming our thinking from reactionary short-termism to the long-term, widening our scope beyond today, tomorrow, and to even five hundred years from now to reclaim meaning in our lives.

Many of the problems we face today, from climate change to work anxiety, are the result of short-term thinking. We are constantly bombarded by notifications and “Breaking News” that are overwhelming our central nervous systems, forcing us to react in the moment and ultimately disconnecting us from what truly matters. But there is a solution.

Futurist Ari Wallach offers a radical new way forward called “longpath,” a mantra and mindset to help us focus on the long view. Drawing on history, theology, neuroscience, evolutionary psychology, and social technologies, Longpath teaches readers to strengthen their ability to look ahead, relieve reactions to stressful events, increase capacity for cooperation, and even boost creativity. Wallach challenges readers to ask themselves, “to what end?”—what is my ultimate goal and how does my choice align with my values? And even more provocatively, Wallach challenges readers to ask “to what end?” for civilization at large.

Whether it’s work, marriage, parenting, or simply trying to be a good human on the planet, framing decisions from a much larger scale creates a more fulfilling and sustainable life now and for future generations.

Review/Endorsements/Praise/Award

“An antidote to nearsightedness. Ari Wallach won’t just leave you planning months or years ahead—he challenges you to look generations ahead. Get ready to think and think again.” — Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Think Again and host of the TED podcast WorkLife

“This perceptive book is an antidote to nearsightedness. Ari Wallach won’t just leave you planning months or years ahead—he challenges you to look generations ahead. Get ready to think and think again.” — Adam Grant, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Think Again and host of the TED podcast WorkLife

“Reading this book is like joining hands across generations in order to find the hope, drive and imagination necessary for us to build the world we wish to manifest. A world built on justice, spirit and joy.” — Ai-jen Poo, President, National Domestic Workers Alliance, author, The Age of Dignity

“Ari Wallach has written an essential guide to the 22nd century. You read that right. With the acumen of a futurist and the soul of a rabbi, Wallach shows us that the only effective antidote to the rampant now-ism of the present is to have an urgent conversation about reshaping the far-future. Longpath will make every conversation you have more meaningful.” — Bruce Feiler, New York Times-bestselling author of Life Is In The Transitions

A brilliant futurist who sees with his whole heart, Wallach shows us how to co-create a future of dignity, justice, and love as daily practice. This book will ignite your agency and lift your gaze to the horizon of possibility. Longpath showed me how to feel future generations’ joy—that joy is now my North Star. Wise, practical, powerful, this is an essential handbook for how to birth the world we dream. — Valarie Kaur, bestselling author of See No Stranger and founder of the Revolutionary Love Project

“People who face great oppression—as Ari’s father did are somehow best able to think beyond themselves, seeing ways forward just when every path seems blocked. Black people in America never had the luxury not to see ahead. We thank our ancestors at the same time we strive to become ancestors worth thanking. Longpath will help more people embrace this mindset and the behaviors that go with it. Changing our minds can transform our lives.” — Rashad Robinson, President, Color of Change

“Like a prophet of old, Ari Wallach offers us an urgently-needed message: While we can’t thank those who came before us, our survival as a species relies on our paying their sacrifices forward. Wallach expertly combines evolutionary biology, psychology, and spiritual wisdom not just to remind us what we owe future generations, but to give us the tools we need to truly become better ancestors.” — David DeSteno, author of How God Works

“Ari Wallach will change the way you look at time. Longpath offers a thought-provoking perspective on how we carry our ancestral history and how we can shift our thinking from short term reactions to long term responses. What actions will we take if we view it from the perspective of our great-great grandchildren?” — Sharon Salzberg, author of Lovingkindness

“Ari Wallach’s approach to being great ancestors is an antidote to the addled, unsustainable traps of short term thinking. Philosophically deep and practical, timeless and urgent, Wallach’s message is one we need more than ever. Take it in; your descendants will be glad you did.” — Jamil Zaki, Ph.D., Director, Stanford Social Neuroscience Lab, author of The War for Kindness

“Longpath is a radical call to expand the window of our attention. In doing so, we shift our thinking and behavior, making us better, happier people.” — Amishi Jha, Professor and author of Peak Mind

“By cultivating what Wallach designates the Longpath way of living, we have direction for how to get beyond short-term decision making rooted in myopic opportunism. A poetic master of creative metaphor, Wallach invites us all to join in the Longpath journey, for species survival yes, but no less because this is a joyful and fulfilling way of living our lives together!” — Daniel Liechty, author of Facing Up To Mortality and Transference and Transcendence

“I loved this book for its authenticity and audacity. Longpath not only helped me envision a brighter future, but also to improve how I can be a more effective leader in the present. This is a playbook that anyone can leverage right now to achieve world changing results. It’s an impressive feat and makes Longpath a must-read.” — Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and National Director, Anti-Defamation League (ADL)

“Ari Wallach challenges practices that incentivize harming our future. Providing helpful tools and anecdotes, Wallach wisely guides readers into making personal and professional decisions with awareness of long term impact – decisions that will enrich our being and one day make our far off descendants proud.” — Ytasha L. Womack, author of Afrofuturism

“Like Victor E. Frankl in Man’s Search for Meaning, Ari Wallach gives us a roadmap to finding meaning and hope in this moment between what was and what will be with the deep insights and provocations one would expect from not just a futurist, but a father who cares deeply about the world we will leave behind to our descendants.” — Alec Ross, New York Times bestselling author of Industries of the Future and The Raging 2020s

“Albert Einstein observed that we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them. Ari Wallach’s Longpath provides a clear way to think differently, so that we can better address the issues of our time.” — Jonathan Rose, author of The Well-Tempered City and co-founder of the Garrison Institute and President of Rose Companies

“What kind of world do we want our children and grandchildren to inherit? Ari Wallach refocuses us on this critical question, which our forebears once weighed more mightily than we do today. Becoming a great ancestor requires not only navigating ever-present crises, but imagining the world as it could be through one’s everyday philosophy and choices.” — Laurence C. Smith, author of The World in 2050, John Atwater and Diana Nelson University Professor of Environmental Studies and Professor of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences at Brown University

“In a turbulent world, Longpath offers a moving, trenchant guide for anyone seeking to close the gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be.” — Hahrie Han, Stavros Niarchos Foundation Professor of Political Science, Director, SNF Agora Institute, Johns Hopkins University, author of Prisms of the People

“Ari Wallach’s Longpath is a timely reminder that even as acute challenges draw our attention, it is essential to take the long view if we are to achieve the shared vision of a just and sustainable world. At a time when resilience is an imperative, and not just a buzzword, Longpath provides a pathway to making it a reality.” — Aron Cramer, President and CEO, BSR

“In the context of a time that is hyperconnected, yet fractured, filled with both transformational change and anxiety, Ari Wallach gives us a compelling roadmap forward, a manifesto for shifting our mindset from the short to the long term—bringing us from the past to the present to a better future we still have the chance to co-create, with even our smallest decisions and interactions.” — Asha Curran, CEO, GivingTuesday

Brilliantly weaving together rationality and spirituality, Longpath offers a new lens through which we can all imagine and shape the future. — Adam Bly, Founder & CEO of System

“Ari Wallach has become our trusted guide to the future and Longpath is our roadmap. Longpath is not a “mindfulness time out,” but “a frame of mind” for living. Wallach’s storytelling gently and persistently moves us to realize that, like the butterfly whose flap of wings caused a storm miles away, our daily actions are building out the future for the generations to follow.” — Sudhir Venkatesh, William B. Ransford Professor of Sociology & African-American Studies at Columbia University

“What if we took the time to extend empathy and care to the generations that came before us? And how about generations that will come after us? In this heart-stretching, time-bending invitation, futurist Ari Wallach pushes us to widen our circle of concern by seeing ourselves as links on an intergenerational chain. Longpathism is a clarion call: it’s on us to make sure the future of humankind is not characterized by the loneliness, alienation, and divisiveness we’re living amidst today.” — Jenn Hoos Rothberg, Executive Director of Einhorn Collaborative

“Sometimes all it takes to change your life is to see it from a different perspective. Ari Wallach’s Longpath blows through conventional thinking and opens up a world where each and every one of us can carefully consider how the choices we make today can impact the future. If you are reconsidering your life choices, this book will illuminate the path forward.” — Kathryn Murdoch, Co-Founder and President, Quadrivium Foundation

“When I hear the word ‘futurist,’ I expect jetpacks and meal-replacement pills. But Wallach isn’t that kind of futurist. In this striking and insightful book, Wallach takes us back in time to see the longer picture. We emerge liberated from our small sense of time and endowed with the responsibility of being a future ancestor.” — Casper ter Kuile, author of The Power of Ritual

“A new framework for thinking about our decision-making patterns, with empathy at the center of all.” — Chade-Meng Tan, author of Search Inside Yourself

“Short-term thinking is enticing and may even feel good up front, but more often than not, it ends up causing harm down the road. Wallach compellingly argues that our biggest challenges require playing the long game, and he shows us how to get started. We’ve got no time to waste.” — Brad Stulberg, author of The Practice of Groundedness

Longpath – blending psychological, emotional and even spiritual development – offers a crucial blueprint and inspirational call to action: to create the futures that we want for ourselves and our descendants. — Hollie Russon Gilman, Senior Fellow at New America and Affiliate Fellow at Harvard’s Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation

“Written with brilliance, beauty, and no shortage of soul, Longpath is the most important and hopeful guide to the future we can start building today.” — David Sax, bestselling author of The Revenge of Analog and The Future is Analog

“Longpath is a way to think about the future — that you can use today. I expected it to be about planning for the future but loved that it’s about how to live now. Ari’s voice is warm, fresh and powerful… This is a very important book.” — Scott Heiferman, Co-founder of Meetup

“This new mindset is one that has us pause and relax a bit. It has us reflect on the world we’re creating with our day-to-day craziness of never-ending to dos that rob us of the opportunity to envision something better, for us, but also for future generations.” — Forbes

“Longpath will leave you reevaluating your path and priorities in a positive way.” — Rich Roll Podcast

“Longpath teaches you how to heal from your past to pave the way for a brighter future, the importance of paying attention to the long game, and how to visualize your future successes.” — Lewis Howes, The School of Greatness podcast

Video and Podcast

Book Summary: Longpath