Grandfather with grandson wading at the beach

A New Proverb: From One Generation to the Next

A New Proverb: From One Generation to the Next

by Bill High

“Shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.”

Every culture around the world has its version of that proverb. In a proverb from Lancashire in England, it’s “Clogs to clogs is only three generations.” For the Japanese, it was “rice paddies to rice paddies in three generations.” And so it goes.

Why the proverb and what does it mean? One generation makes it—builds a business, creating wealth and success. The next generation loses the entrepreneurial spirit and begins spending it. By the third generation the wealth is gone.

All this points to the fact that we don’t succeed as connected families for very long—usually not more than a generation or two.

That should bother us. Another way of summing up the issue is that while our kids may follow our values, our grandchildren are not likely to do so. At least it will be the exception rather than the norm.


I think the first failure is one of vision. We think too small. We’re too short-sighted. At best, we tend to think that our kids and maybe our grandkids can have a good life. But that vision is too small and lacks specificity.

Tweak it slightly. What would happen if our vision was five to seven generations of family who shared the same values and lived them out? Imagine if generation after generation of family knew the same family stories. What would happen if each generation knew what it had cost to get here, and shared in that experience?

Perhaps then instead of “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations” the adage might become “from one generation to the next.”



Photo by Dvir Adler on Unsplash

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Published March 12, 2021

Topics: Family Legacy

Family CommunicationFamily LegacyFamily StoriesGenerationsValues

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