Of Trees and Shade

The Chinese have a saying (we have plenty of sayings honestly) that roughly translates into “one generation plants the trees in whose shade another generation rests”. It probably isn’t a thought that is unique to us. A quick Google search showed that Warren Buffet had a similar idea when he said “someone is sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago”. In an exhortation, Nelson Henderson also says “the true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit”.

I’ve had the privilege to attend a memorial service recently, during which several people far wiser than I am shared their views on what being a leader meant to them. One theme resonated with me. A true leader leaves behind a system that is self-sustaining and self-renewing, not one that collapses like a house of cards. Like the proverbial tree, our actions may sometimes take lifetimes to take fruit and mature. But we do it despite the short-term costs and lack of returns, so long as we have the conviction that it will benefit the generations to come.

Picture taken in Aquatic Park, San Francisco.

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