Transmitting Our Values

When we think about our children and grandchildren, we often think about what we will leave them when we are gone, be it a mug collection or a grandmother’s diamond ring. But messages about values are equally important to pass on. It is never easy to sit down and think about a world that we are no longer a part of, but ensuring that your loved ones learn your family history, stories, values, and philanthropic goals is a way to help you feel comfort in knowing that a piece of you will always be with them.

Sharing stories makes your family more resilient and gives them a sense of connection. The more we know about our family, from the mundane to the philosophical, the more connected we feel. In a New York Times article in 2013, Bruce Feiler discusses the work of two psychologists from Emory University who have spent decades understanding the importance of having a family narrative. To summarize, the more your family understands about its roots and each individuals’ place in his/her family system, the more resilient he/she is.

We often make assumptions about how our actions, our volunteering, or our philanthropy communicates our values, but there is nothing like saying it directly to make sure you are heard and understood. There are many ways to transmit your values to the next generation, so finding a method that feels authentic and genuine will help make the most of this wonderful gift to your family. Here are a few options:

Create an Ethical Will

First, you can write an ethical will. In Jewish life, an ethical will is simply the name for a non-legal document that outlines all of the things you want your family to know about your values. One of the first ethical wills in Judaism is basically the entire book of Deuteronomy (I know because this was my Bat Mitzvah portion). After Moses learns that he will not enter the land, he gives three lengthy sermons recounting everything he wants the Israelites to remember when he is gone. Assuming that you aren’t going to write something quite that long, there are many templates for an ethical will. The key items to start with are: Who are you? What are your personal values and what do you hope you have passed on? What stories from your life would you like your family to remember, and what did you learn from them?

From the philanthropic perspective, it is wonderful to include stories about gifts, experiences, or organizations that were particularly meaningful to you. Spelling out some of this information leaves a permanent understanding of how you wanted to make an impact, and it gives future generations the chance to connect with you in multiple ways. A specific organization or cause might resonate with family members, or an experience or value could create a new generational through line. Some people save ethical wills or similar documents to be passed on at the end of their lives, but you might find that once you write it down, you’d like to share it with your family and start a conversation now.

Create a Storybook

If you’re busy and love a tech intervention, you could even use one of the services that text or email you a question every week for a year and compile your responses in book form, such as StoryWorth. A lower tech version can be done through The Grandparent Legacy Project from 21/64, which contains stories that others have put together, and a template for writing your story yourself, or having your grandkids interview you.

Have Your Loved Ones Interview You

You could also use in-person storytelling, interviewing, or video. Silver Screen Studios, a project of Reboot, has put together a guide for how younger people can interview older generations to understand more about their lives. This might be a helpful starting point for recording values and stories for the next generation. Familial offers a highly personalized guided ethical will writing process. The end product is a letter that gets packaged as a gift for family members.

However you want to proceed, I would recommend starting to make a list of your values, your stories that shaped those values, and your hopes and dreams for future generations. Then, begin sharing. I know many of my family stories, but I never stop wishing that I had gotten a few more from my own departed family members. By using a combination of personal sharing as well as documentation, you can ensure that this important piece of who you are becomes a lasting chapter of your family’s story.

Note: The companies and their products and services mentioned in this article are for illustrative purposes only. We encourage you to research companies to help you make an informed decision, as we are not affiliated with nor endorse any of the companies mentioned.

Categories: Philanthropy


December 23, 2019


Debbie Berkowitz