Vail Daily column: Leaving a legacy
Posterity remembers very few and very little. If my great-grandchildren know my name, then I will consider it a victory. Past that is gravy. I question whether anybody really internalizes the words that I write now, let alone the impact that they will have in fifty years. The life that I lead, the efforts that I make are largely for my contemporaneous enjoyment and for the security and happiness of my immediate progeny. Others have different motivations; to have their names on buildings, to have fame that transcends generations, to amass fortunes on which their descendants can suckle. To reach this status, certain distasteful choices usually need to be made. A meteoric rise of one typically comes at the expense of another or others. This is not worth it. A legacy should shine, not be tarnished by shame.
When we pass, it is our essence that trails behind us. A lifetime is distilled into a summary of not more than a few words. I will never forget my mother-in-law; I shall remember her always as the most sweet, supportive woman I have ever known. Of course, I have other, fuller memories of her, but her essential legacy is of kindness, optimism and love.
Conversely, a few good deeds do not a lifetime of selfishness erase. A titan of commerce who crushed competitors on his way to the top, who was absent from the upbringing of his kids, who slept with his assistant while married will not be remembered as a saint because he made a few token donations to charity. There is no use to having a museum wing bearing your moniker when your people know you as a curmudgeon, a dirtbag, a genuinely horrible person. Strangers may walk by a plaque engraved with your name, but that is a passing moment to which they will pay scant, if any, attention. You will be forever memorialized in family and local lore as a stain upon the honor of the tribe.
Focusing less on the centuries ahead and more on the quotidian impact of each decision is a way to advance upon a lasting heritage of goodness. Instead of trying to fulfill a misguided and potentially unrealistic destiny, it is more beneficial to simply be nice to people. While every interaction could be viewed as a chance to get ahead, it could instead be an opportunity to leave behind an impression of your grace, of your benevolence.
Creating An Example
A legacy is about much more than recognition, about more than being remembered for your achievements. It is about creating an example for your lineage. Children, whether they are toddlers, adolescents, or putative adults, are quick to take cues from their parents and other forebears. The fortitude, the compassion, the daring exhibited by most of my grandparents informed how my folks developed and, in turn, predestined the lessons that were imparted to me. Inextricably linked with my wife, her own chain of relations have a coincident effect on my own life. Her parents are exemplars that I strive mightily to emulate. Similarly, the poor choices made by certain of our prior relatives are admonitory to the lives we now choose to lead. In turn, my daughter is shaped by our influence, for both good and bad. My truest, perhaps only, motivation is to make that ratio irretrievably skewed to the positive.
Core of my Legacy
While my family is the focus of my ambition, that is not to say that I do not wish to leave a mark on the world. An avowed critic of inefficiency, greed, torpor, intolerance and other societal ills, particularly in the legal profession, there is no doubt that I would love to be remembered as a reformer, as a guiding voice of reason in turbulent, insane times. But to push myself too far in that direction is to risk becoming a killjoy, a distracted father, husband and friend. Fortunately, my goal is coincident with many of the qualities that I want to instill in my daughter. The fortuitousness of that overlap allows me to pursue a broader influence without overly endangering the closer core of my legacy.
To be guided solely by the future is to miss the gift of the present. But in tense moments, when the pressure is on, it is wise to consider how your actions will be viewed one, ten, a hundred, a thousand years hence. Viewed from that vantage, you may be a forgotten part of history, but you will still know that you lived a life that stood out to you and your kin. That is all that matters.
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril LLC, a local law firm, and the owner and mediator at Voice Of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Voboril at 970-306-6456, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.rkvlaw.com.