Life is serious. For many, insert my own raised hand, the legacy we leave behind is just as serious. To leave this world a little better than you found it is a noble goal.
Dale Carnegie stated in How to Win Friends and Influence People, that there is nothing sweeter than hearing the sound of your own name.
To have your name attached to that improvement in perpetuity is icing on the cake. Didn’t someone once say, you are only truly dead when you are forgotten?
Maybe it is possible to hear your own name beyond the grave. If not, then why does it really matter?
How many remember The Beatles song “Here Comes the Sun”? If you are over 40, there is a good chance you do and can even sing the main line and hum the few bars that follow. The song is over 50 years old. Yet a good portion of the world’s population remembers it. Surviving this long is an amazing feat. How long will it last before it is completely forgotten? Now, think about Marion Harris’s song, “After You’ve Gone.” Do you remember it? This chart-topping song came out 50 years before Here Comes the Sun.
What was popular then has faded away. And what is popular today will eventually share the same fate.
Things will get lost in time. Languages, cultures, and civilizations will crumble and turn to dust.
We take our legacy seriously. We want to say our lives have meaning and the measuring stick is how long we will be remembered after our bodies are no more. But even the greatest names of humanity’s ancient past will drift off into obscurity.
Where does that leave us?
The first king of Israel was Saul. He was a tall, good-looking man, and the leader of God’s chosen people. One could say that he had at all. Yet, he had a problem. As Fr. Mike Schmitz explains it on The Bible in a Year podcast, Saul suffered from the sin of vanity. And what is vanity? He was overly preoccupied with what people thought of him. Two kings later, Solomon would in Ecclesiastes 1:2 say, “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity.” I’ve often wondered about this saying. But it wasn’t until I understood Saul, that I could understand Solomon’s words. It was then that I could see my own problems and how my life has been one of vanity even from my earliest age.
Does it mean I should stop chasing my legacy? Well, if I want to remove vanity from my life, then yes, I should leave it behind. Can I do that and still have a positive impact on the world? The answer again is yes. My focus shouldn’t be on the results but rather on what I am doing today.
Here are four things I should take seriously rather than worrying about my legacy.
#1 A just mind
If you want to be righteous, you need two things: right thoughts and right actions. The first component of that is right thoughts. Our mind is a sacred enclosure, and no thoughts can enter into it without our permission. This begins with what we consume. If I litter my mind with garbage, then it won’t be long before that garbage permeates into my thinking. And that in time will affect my actions. To have a just mind, I must begin to permeate it with good material which in turn will lead to good thoughts.
#2 Socially useful actions.
These actions are not a green light to be a member of The Social Media Thought Police. Instead, it is how I can make my little place in the universe better. Modern technology has given us the ability to have a global outreach, but are we reaching out in our community as well? Setting up a nonprofit in a remote place on the other side of the world is wonderful. Also wonderful is helping your neighbor in need, picking up a piece of trash on the sidewalk, and opening the door for the lady walking behind you. Small things done daily to make your community better will have a lasting impact over time.
#3 Speech that never lies.
We could imagine a world filled with nothing but truth. Politics, media, big corporations, the used car dealer down the street. Sadly, we are surrounded by corrupt people whose objective is to deceive for their own personal gain. Not everybody is like this, but there are enough bad apples causing us to question the whole bunch.
We cannot force others to the truth. After all, they are doing what is right in their own eyes. The only speech we can control is the ones that come from our own mouths. We can be the bearers of truth. We can assure that our words are trustworthy.
#4 Welcome everything that happens as necessary.
As much as we like, we cannot control outside events. What we can control is our own response to it. Why did the universe put this unfortunate event in our lap? Who knows? Fortune gives and also takes away. Can this event make me a better person? Of course. That is part of our response to the event. By itself, the event cannot make us a worse person. Our response to the event, however, can make us a better person.
In any case, what is it to be remembered forever? Nothing but vanity. So what should one take seriously? Only the following: a just mind, socially useful actions, speech that only ever tells the truth, and the ability to welcome everything that happens as necessary, as comprehensible by reason, and as flowing from an equally rational original source.Marcus Aurelius, Meditations 4.33
Vanity of vanities, how can I remove vanity from my life? I can move my focus from the future and put it in the present where it belongs. I can take these four things from Marcus Aurelius seriously and work on them daily. Doing this will make me a better person and cement the legacy I imagine.
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