Four Ways to Convey Your Values
by Tom Fowler
“If those who are toiling for wealth to leave their children would take half the pain to secure for them virtuous habits, how much more serviceable would they be. The largest property may be wrested from a child, but virtue will stand by him to the last.” – William Graham Sumner
These words of a U.S. economist and sociologist from the nineteenth century remind us that transferring values is far more important than transferring assets to children. But the question is how do you convey your values to your children and to succeeding generations?
One of the most powerful answers is, of course, to lead by your example. Your example is a touchstone for your children. It becomes part of your reputation and the name your children will inherit. But what about generations of your family yet to be born who are deprived of the privilege of watching you in action? That’s where four other ingredients of your children’s inheritance come into play – your personal story, your family mission, your family vision statement and philanthropy.
Do your children know your personal story? Do they know the lessons, the hardship, and the sacrifices that helped shape what you are today? Your story holds the values you wish to pass to them and that’s why it is so important to share that story with them and with future generations of your family.
My wife came from a family of five children. She never considered herself poor even though she worked from childhood to earn her spending money and to pay her way through college. She shared the value of work and the sense of accomplishment it brings as well as the value of education. My children said, upon hearing her story, “I didn’t know mother’s family was so poor.” Her family didn’t have a lot of financial assets but they were rich is other ways. Her inheritance was the value of her experiences.
Do you have Family Vision and Mission Statements? A Family Vision Statement provides a compelling vision of your family’s long-lasting pursuit of unity, shared values and purposeful lives. This document includes your definition of the true wealth of your family; how you want this wealth to affect your inheritors; your order of financial objectives; the assets you require to main your lifestyle; your family mission statement; your estate plan and how you wish to empower your children to pursue your vision and create one of their own.
A Family Mission Statement describes the highest purposes served by your family’s lives, occupations, actions and wealth. Our Family Mission Statement is: “To be “present” in all our interactions with others and to leave them feeling better about themselves and their situation than they did before we met.”
Finally, philanthropy plays a powerful role in teaching values. I learned philanthropy from observing my parents. The act of giving was recognition you had been blessed with the resources to help others. Philanthropy was a demonstration of personal stewardship. To my parents and to my wife and I, supporting charitable causes is a personal thanks to all life had given us.
These four ingredients will promote passage of values to future generations. They will help inoculate your children from the terrible effects of affluenza, which is the dysfunctional relationship with money. They will also enhance family unity and communication, priceless treasures money could never buy.