How many people can you name who lived 100 years ago? Including politicians, scientists, artists, inventors, historical figures and our own ancestors, many of us struggle to name even three dozen. How many of the 314 million Americans or 7 billion planetarians will be remembered 100 years from now?
Very few of us will be a Teddy Roosevelt, Thomas Edison, Marie Curie, Pablo Picasso, Harriet Tubman or Henry Ford. Nonetheless, most of us seek meaning in our lives and hope to be remembered after we’re gone.
Recently, I traveled to Belarus in the former Soviet Union with one of my sons to visit the small village that my grandfather left in 1912 to come to this country in search of a better life. His family had lived there for centuries. We walked in the abandoned, unfrequented and disordered 400-year-old Jewish cemetery where my ancestors were buried. Not only were the headstones of these long-forgotten people covered in moss and illegible, I didn’t even know my own family members’ names.
Likewise, the majority of the Americans who grew up in the Depression and fought abroad and worked at home during World War II are unknown by name to those of us alive today. But, collectively, we know of them as “The Greatest Generation,” whose courage and sacrifice rescued freedom from the threat of totalitarianism. Their generational legacy is the free society that we enjoy today.
Legacy Project chair Susan Bosak writes,
The idea of legacy may remind us of death, but it’s not about death. … Legacy is really about life and living. It helps us decide the kind of life we want to live and the kind of world we want to live in. Through legacy, ‘me’ becomes ‘we.’ … ‘We’ encompasses past and future, old and young, and the society we create and perpetuate.”
What will be our individual and generational legacies?
People today have more information, technology and resources available to them than at any time in history. With that power and responsibility, how do we create a legacy for future generations?
Living a life consistent with our values, in harmony with others, and in a manner that repairs the world and preserves those things that are essential to a healthy, sustainable and productive society and planet are fundamental components of our legacy. Generous, thoughtful, focused philanthropy is a necessary element of that goal and will help create and solidify the legacy of our generation.
Find your passion for libraries, wilderness, arts, justice, civil rights, democracy, health care and disease prevention, education, the elderly, children, peace, civic engagement, religion, human dignity, veterans, disaster relief, women, girls, research, coexistence, the environment or many other causes. Support the many great nonprofit organizations working here and globally to help preserve the good things in the world that we cherish, and repair those things that cry out for help, improvement and change.
According to Nelson Henderson,
the true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit.”
The Holiday Season and the beginning of another New Year are perfect times to ask not, “How will I be remembered 100 years from now?” but rather, “What kind of world do I want to live in, and what can I do to help preserve, repair and change it, so that in 2113, it is a better place: healthier, more sustainable and life-affirming for my descendants and for all?”
As Goethe wrote:
Choose well. Your choice is brief, and yet endless.”
Bruce DeBoskey is a Colorado-based philanthropic adviser, helping families, businesses and foundations with their philanthropic initiatives. Learn more at www.deboskeygroup.com. This column originally ran in the Denver Post, December 16th, 2012. Posted here by the author.