In my December 16 blog post I described the tripod upon which the Sailing Science Center stands. The legs of the tripod are technology, leadership and stewardship. These are fundamental values we are promoting to create lasting change in the world. Why these three? Let me tell you. Technology and science are what will be needed to provide solutions in the areas of energy, transportation, food production and waste management. Leadership will be needed to provide the commitment, courage and direction to implement those solutions. Stewardship, or more accurately the sense of stewardship, is what provides us with the purpose we need to drive our actions forward. Today I will focus on stewardship, what it is, why it matters and where it comes from.
What is Stewardship? According to Merriam-Webster, stewardship is the conducting, supervising or managing of something, especially: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care. In other words, taking care of that which is entrusted to us. So we might ask, what has been entrusted to us and for whom are we stewarding it? To this I will answer, no less than the world has been entrusted to us and we are stewarding it for future generations, not just of people, but of all life on the planet. In theology there is also a strong concept of stewardship, in which people are responsible for taking care of the world. The pillars of biblical stewardship are ownership, responsibility, accountability and reward. I believe those same pillars apply from a secular perspective.
Two months ago I got a call from someone I knew, asking if he could borrow the life raft from my boat for a trip to Mexico. He was ready to check out of the rat race, take his winnings and retire. The conversation progressed to Elon Musk and his plans to use Mars as a planetary life raft if the ship called Earth goes down. I invoked the old sailor’s maxim that one should always step up into a life raft, meaning you should only get into a life raft when your ship sinks out from under you, never while it is still floating. Your ship contains your food, your water, your shelter and all your tools and equipment. It is by far your best chance for survival.
Mars doesn't even come close to the spectacular conditions we have for life on Earth.
While I believe in having a life raft, I also believe most of our energy should be on keeping the boat afloat. My friend didn’t care. He had gotten his, and he figured he would be dead before things really hit the fan. “What about your 14-year-old son?” I asked. “Sorry! We f****d it up; he’s on his own.” he replied. There are many who share this outlook: people with the view that I got mine.
I choose, instead, to think of the blessings we have had, of past generations who gave their lives for our future, and of future generations who are counting on us. Here we find the dichotomy—the tension—and what I think is the essence of being human. It is the never-ending battle between acting in self-interest and acting for the collective good. Both are necessary, but a proper balance is needed.
Why it Matters If we don’t take ownership of our world, we are left to thinking that it’s someone else’s job. We take our chances and are subject to whatever happens, for better or worse. When we take ownership, we empower ourselves and can help guide the course of our future toward what we choose. This gives us direction and hope. When we work collectively it connects us and fulfills our greatest needs in ways that material things always fail to do. Therein lies the reward, not just for ourselves, but for our sons and daughters.
Where Does a Sense of Stewardship Come From? One can be cast into the role of a steward, as we all have through our very existence, but this does not give us a sense of stewardship. Stewardship is a choice. Most often that choice will come from an appreciation of what it is that you are stewarding. Imagine that you have been given responsibility for a house. It’s your job to pay the bills for the mortgage and the insurance. It’s also your job to manage the maintenance, the garbage service and the utilities. But you’ve only seen one room of the house; the cost of maintenance seems high. Your interest in it is low, and you resent the bills you must pay. Now, one day, you are told the house is yours! You are given a tour and see that it is a magnificent house with many rooms, each one spectacular in its own way. It excites your heart, and you say “This is special. I must take care of this.” And so it is for stewardship of our planet. When we see the redwoods, or go to the Grand Canyon, or spend time on and under the ocean, it excites the heart makes us say, “This is special. I must take care of this.”
Stewardship and Leadership Stewardship and leadership are closely connected. This connection comes back to the fundamental tension of what it is to be human—the ongoing battle between self-interest and acting for the collective good. A good steward is looking after the world not just for his own interest, but for the interest of everyone, including those who have yet to be born, as though he would be the beneficiary. And in a way, he is, because the people who came before him took care of it for his benefit. Similarly, a good leader is looking out for the collective good of his followers, guiding them in ways that serve the many, but also receiving the benefits from the fulfillment that creates a life worth living.