What Does Passing on Values to the Next Generation Really Look Like?

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Excerpted from Wealth of Wisdom: The Top 50 Questions Wealthy Families Ask, published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Copyright © 2019 Tom McCullough and Keith Whitaker. All rights reserved.

If you are reading this chapter in hopes of obtaining strategies and ideas on how to have your children and grandchildren embrace many of the same life priorities and values that you have, you are not alone. I have worked with very successful and affluent families for more than 25 years and the issue of passing on values is among the most frequent topics on which I am consulted. The process of deeply understanding your own values, being intentional about how to instill some of those in your children, embracing their unique values, and taking the many steps necessary to create a legacy is indeed a life’s work.

During these many years, and through the candidness of my clients, I have learned five important lessons about values transmission:

  • Values are caught, not taught.
  • Values are different than beliefs, preferences, choices, and principles.
  • Leading a life that is consistent with one’s values is the greatest predictor of happiness.
  • Storytelling is a powerful means of sharing values.
  • If the family is to flourish for multiple generations, the attention to human capital should be as serious as that to financial capital.

Values are caught, not taught

We all heard as children that “actions speak louder than words.” That turns out to be true. Our values are on display every day, in so many ways, for our friends, family, and community to observe. We demonstrate our values most clearly in the ways we choose to spend our time, our money, and our energy. Families often decide to develop a family mission statement or family values statement. They hope that these documents will teach the future generations what is important to them, what the family legacy is, and what values they hold dear. Such formal statements may help the family crystallize its thinking. But what many thoughtful, committed families have discovered is that what is most meaningful is how you actually live your life, not what can be communicated in a written document.