When I did a search to define legacy it gave me something I wasn’t expecting. Legacy is defined primarily as a gift, particularly money or personal possession, that is willed to another.
I thought that was inheritance so of course I had to look that word up to. Inheritance is poorly defined but is considered synonymous with legacy or endowment.
When we discuss Dr Martin Luther King Jr or the influential ancestors of our family, we tend to talk about their legacy more than their possessions. So what is legacy exactly? And how does it relate?
What is legacy?
I heard someone describe the difference as:
Inheritance is something you leave to someone; Legacy is something you leave in someone.
I think that saying embodies more of how we feel about what legacy is. It is possible that we have become so caught up in possessions that the easiest way to describe it is through ownership of something. With that, perhaps it is ownership of character or heritage more than physical things.
Whose legacy is it anyway?
There is a man that died recently who lived a very controversial life and who’s story will be told for centuries. This man was considered to be a hero by some and by others a detriment that his country couldn’t see. I have to believe that whoever tells his story will undoubtedly agree that he fought for what he believed in and that things changed under his leadership. Fidel Castro’s legacy will live on for a long time.
There was a woman that died in 1996 who lead a life of servitude to her family. She taught her two sons to cook and clean for themselves and showed them how respectable young men would be treated. As a mom of four, she spent tireless hours making sure that the Asbury Park, NJ house they lived in always felt like home. As a wife, she attended to her husband’s needs often before he knew they existed. She did all of this in plain sight of her children and instilled the same respect, ethics, and moral value in them. Helen “Dutchess” Pleasant was my grandmother. Her legacy lives on now in her children’s children; and their children.
Legacy is problematic in our culture
Culture is built on the cultivations of ideas, values, and common efforts of a tribe of people. If we fail to see the individual input of ourselves and others, we can never build or influence culture.
Norman Cousins, a Philosopher and Author, once said, “In short, freedom’s main problem is the problem of the individual who takes himself lightly historically.” He noted earlier in that same passage, “the eternal and ultimate problem of a free society… is the problem of the individual who thinks that one man cannot possibly make a difference in the destiny of that society. It is the problem of the individual who has no real awareness of the millions of bricks that had to be put into place, one by one, over many centuries, in order for him to dwell in the penthouse of freedom. Nor does he see any special obligation to those who continue building the structure or to those who will have to live in it after him, for better or worse.”
In a society where we glorify the “right now” more than the investment of time and effort, legacy is all but ignored. We can’t even properly conceive what it means to leave a legacy because we don’t believe we can do much to change what is happening at the moment.
It is imperative that we grab a vision of what the future looks like and design our current behaviors and habits to make that future a certain eventuality. We have to see ourselves as part of the long term sustaining and building of our communities; which together influence our overall culture.
Legacy for children is the comfort and strength drawn from those that have lived before and are currently living for them. For experienced and wise among us, legacy is hope and guidance for future generations.
In whole, legacy is a culmination of stories and memories; of hopes and dreams; of traditions and heritage. It must be that legacy, however guided, is the impact that you leave on the world not the possessions you leave in it.
What will be the stories told about your life?
How do people see you now?
What will continue in honor of you?
Let’s be better; together.