Should We Be Concerned With Legacy?

When thinking about your life, is it valuable to think about your legacy? That is, should it matter what you leave behind you after you die?

In life, there is an advantage to having people think well of you. It can help attract good, thoughtful, productive people to you. It can help remove obstacles. Overall, it can make your life easier and more pleasant.

However, that advantage would seem to disappear after you die. How your memory lives on doesn’t confer any direct advantage.  There may be some indirect value to your family and loved ones, but that gets harder and harder to quantify as time goes on.

That approach is largely transactional, however. Is there a strictly moral component? Is it important that you are remembered as a good person after you die? If so, how much of your time and resources while alive should be devoted to trying to secure a legacy of some sort?

After all, we all have a limited amount of time and energy in our lives. How does the priority of establishing a legacy place against other earthly concerns? Like food and shelter, or accrual of wealth or status, or feeling contented or fulfilled? Or does how you go about fulfilling your daily needs become part of your legacy?

Is the idea one of the first things you abandon when faced with tough choices about life? To put it another way, is thinking about a legacy a luxury that only the upper class get to consider?

Do you think about how your name will outlive you? Do you take steps in your daily life to alter that? Should we be concerned with legacy? What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?

Related questions: What gives a person value? Why do we care what strangers think of us? How do you think others see you? What gives you purpose? What are you doing to make the world a better place?

3 thoughts on “Should We Be Concerned With Legacy?”

  1. Some people are skilled and/or talented enough that leaving a popular legacy just happens. Such is the case, for example, with some performers, authors, or artists (e.g. Nina Simone, Johnny Cash, Jane Austen, Pablo Picasso). While their art may (possibly) speak for itself — and leave something tangible to remember them by — some fans or critics may dig deeper, learning about their subjects’ lives. A subset will benefit upon further examination, while others will justifiably be taken down several notches.

    For the rest of us, our legacy will not reach as far or live on nearly as long as the artist. We may hold a special (or scorned) place in the hearts of those who knew us. In this case, should we be concerned with our legacy? I think so, but only in how it reflects the quality of the life we lived.

    I want to be remembered fondly. Will friends, family, and acquaintances look back at my life and think of the advocate who worked to end homelessness, fought discrimination against those living with mental illnesses, and tried to teach others that eating responsibly is one of the best things we could do to mitigate climate change? Or will I be remembered as a stubborn guy who spoke and wrote in a clunky way and whose anxiety levels and introversion kept me from making nearly the impact I wanted to?

    My hope is that I will be remembered primarily as the guy who fought for social justice with my challenges bringing a bit of humor to how I often fell a bit short of the mark I wanted to make.

    Will my legacy live long? I don’t know. It all depends on how I am making an impact now. Am I convincing others younger than me that ending homelessness is possible? Does my example of being transparent about living with mental illness help others to not live part of their life in the shadows while convincing others that those living with mental illness have a lot to contribute? Am I inspiring a new generation of heirloom gardeners who steer clear overly-processed food? Again, I hope so.

    Yes. I want to leave a legacy. I think it’s a measure of the life I lived to create change. That said, once my all my friends, family, and acquaintances leave this earth too, I am okay with my legacy no longer being attached specifically to me and my life. But I still want to live on in how I inspired others to leave a positive and impactful legacy as well.

  2. [WASHINGTON]
    Let me tell you what I wish I’d known
    When I was young and dreamed of glory
    You have no control:

    [WASHINGTON AND COMPANY]
    Who lives
    Who dies
    Who tells your story?

    Our legacy is how we chose to lead our lives now. Whether we touch people, impact them, create an impression with other people, have an impact on their lives — it’s happening right now and has been happening throughout our lives even if we never gave it a thought.

    Orson Welles once said something about storytelling and happy ends that I think is interesting to think about in the context of legacy, “If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.” You can’t look for happiness as the ultimate culmination of your life because of course every life ends in death. You have to keep looking for and finding happiness along the way.

    The same thing with legacy. You can’t plan for your life to wrap up with an act or set of actions that cement your legacy. Who knows what people will think of you once you’re gone? If you want to shape your legacy, you have to look for the actions you can take along the way that allow you to see yourself the way you hope other people will also see you.

  3. I like this question. I like to think of my legacy as a link between. As one person who is currently living with 8 billion other people on a planet, whose one of many collective legacies is plastic trash heaps many cubic miles long, wide, and tall in every ocean, it’s hard to imagine that I can have much impact on something–anything- that matters. But what I can do is pass on a story that I heard to someone else who could benefit from it. I can share one idea with another person who magically knows how to turn that idea into something meaningful. I can even share an idea with someone who just doesn’t know what to do with, or about, anything. I can share the comfort that I sometimes receive from loved ones with another person in need of comfort at another time. The passing and sharing of information, perspective, and especially connection is what keeps us surviving and hopefully thriving and growing. Not just after we’re gone, but more importantly, while we live today.

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