Sunday, May 19, 2013

The Weekend Philosopher: Legacies

For some people, living a worthwhile life is simply a matter of doing what makes them happy.  Or it may mean taking care of those they love.  For others, it may mean making a lasting impact on the world.

As human beings, we are aware of our own mortality.  This places an unknown time limit on our lives.  None of us know how long we have, but we want our lives to have counted for something.  Leaving a legacy after death seems to be a common theme throughout human history.  We want our life stories to last beyond us, even if it is simply with those who knew us.  However, a familial legacy is not always enough.  

Perhaps we want to leave something behind that speaks to who we were, and we hope that message will be heard by people who never had the opportunity to know them in life.  We may hope that our message will touch others and inspire them.  Or we may hope that our legacy, whatever it may be, will continue to entertain.

Whatever it is we want to leave behind in this world, we need to face one irrevocable fact.  We cannot control how future generations might view what we leave behind.

Background Image courtesy of Salvatore Vuono
Why is this the case?  We are invariably a product of our times.  This contributes to the friction seen between the older and younger generations.  As society changes, points of view shift, and those born into more recent times are bound to differ from those who came before for that reason.  The evolution of society may be gradual, but the change is evident in our world nevertheless.

This process of change will undoubtedly continue after our lives end.  If we've made films, or written books, or been well known for fighting for certain causes, we can only measure the impact we've had on the world in which that work was done.  However, a legacy is not limited to the present.  It lives on, sometimes crossing multiple generations.  While future generations may, if we're lucky enough to be remembered for what we created, look at our work in the context of the time in which it was done, they will also look at it from the context of their own time.  The personal view they hold, which is inevitably influenced by their own culture, is something we cannot predict with any certainty.

So when we seek to leave a legacy behind, what should we take into consideration?  Since the future will read our lives in a way we cannot foresee, we only have one real option open to us.  We can only do the things that we feel are right.  We can build the legacy that we would be proud to have.  What are you passionate about?  What of this world would you like to preserve?  What injustices do you wish to remedy?  What creative work do you feel an insatiable need to create?  Embrace those things, because at the end of the day, the only thing you can control is your life.  Live a life that's brings you a sense of fulfillment.  History will see you (or not see you) according to its own rules.

Background Image courtesy of Piyaphon


  1. Hi, just checked out your blog from the road trip. Thanks for writing!

  2. I believe we shouldn't seek to leave a legacy behind but to do what feels right, as you said, and to create what we feel should be created. Nice post :)

  3. Hey road tripper! :) I love philosophy, and this is a great post. I agree with you too. Trying to hard to leave something when you don't even know how things will actually turn out won't work very well. You'll just be disappointed.