Maintaining a Legacy

Family ShadowHow many of you noticed that my domain lapsed last month? Honestly, I considered just letting this all go. Over the past two years, millennial as a definition has grown less important to me. Rather, “husband” and “father” are much sweeter sounds to my ears than some generational affectation designed by some sociologist. Even so, I’ve put varying degrees of work into this blog over the past four years. And while I know that I’m succumbing to a bit of a sunk cost fallacy here, I’m not ready to let it fade quietly into the night, though I think all I will be able to manage is a long-form post once a week.

Legacy is a funny thing. We’re hammered from all sorts of directions about leaving a financial inheritance for our children. Everything from investing into their education to making sure we leave a little money after we’re gone – passing something on to the next generation is imperative, even instinctual.

But a legacy of thought? A legacy of ideas and growth? Somehow, these have gone by the wayside. We’re pressured to invest in our children’s education, but often forget to contribute our experience in a structured way. Yes, we raise them. We teach them the stories that define us.

But I want to do more.

Right now, I can’t leave my children a legacy of money or stuff, nor do I necessarily want to. Windfalls are often toxic. Without proper training and protection, the effects can be overwhelming and even deadly. However, we can leave a far greater kind of legacy that has the opposite effect.

The most popular post at the time I wrote this is “Seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly… OK, how?” I wrote this post a few years ago, and people keep stumbling across it. I don’t feel that the post itself is special or revelatory, but it stands as a kind of initial deposit towards this far greater legacy: instruction in walking with the Lord.

So, I guess for right now, I’ll embrace the domain. Maybe even truly begin passing on something to millennials, the generation after them (us?), and to my children.

Maintain a Legacy

We will all leave something behind. Maybe not money or physical assets, but something. How we treat one another, the stories we tell, the people we persuade – these are part of our legacy. Though intangible, these moments are not irrelevant. Rather they remain long after any physical legacy fades.

For many people, the legacy they leave is a collection of unintended consequences. We go about our day and act in accordance with experience. Most of the time, it is only in moments of profound upheaval do we examine and change how we behave. The demands of life often leave us with little energy to turn new soil in our behavior. Our legacy is born from layers of reaction.

If we are to cultivate and maintain a legacy, it means we have to turn the dirt ourselves instead of waiting for seismic upheavals. Like anything else we do, leaving something worthwhile behind takes time and cultivation, and it’s not something we can do all at once.

A Starting Point

I know this all sounds a bit ethereal. If you will bear with me for just a few more paragraphs, I promise there are some actionable steps below.

The key to passing on this far greater legacy begins with a simple reflex to capture, record, and pass on our intellectual and spiritual heritage to the next generation.

But where does this reflex come from? For me, it came from the time in my life when my grandparents began to pass on. I grew up close to my extended family, however about the time the older generation began to pass on, I moved away. Each visit home became precious because I knew that I would get fewer and fewer chances to see them. Each time I left, I had to accept the reality that this may be the last time I get to see them.

Growing up, I had heard my parents and grandparents repeat certain phrases and stories. I suspect for most of us, we become insulated and a bit oblivious to the stories that our parents and grandparents repeat. It’s a bit of a trope in our culture, really. But now, I became intent on trying to capture the essence of their stories.

These stories are their canon. Like all canons, they are the narratives that define them.

We all have a canon.We draw lessons and frameworks for how to deal with life from the stories that remain in our hearts. Some of the stories are profound. Others banal. Others nostalgic. We all tend to collect our own personal canon, a series of narratives that express our core. The trick is to remember to write it down or record it.

Here’s where you start:

  1. Make a list of personal values.
  2. Write out beside each value a phrase that describes/defines it. It really helps if you can think of a phrase that you hear your parents or grandparents using.
  3. Make sure you put it on paper.

The on-going investment:

  1. Take a few minutes each day, write a sentence or paragraph on one of your values.
  2. Begin writing/recording single-sentence reminders of the stories you tell others to emphasize this belief (those go-to stories and arguments you use to prove your point).

I get that this is introspective, but I think we owe our children and the generations that come after us more than bank statements, student loans, and cat videos. Our generation is at risk of having now intellectual legacy due to how quickly storage media change. Most of our thoughts exist only as electrical bits somewhere half a world a way. Our spiritual legacy is likewise becoming equally post-literate. We must endeavor to do better if we are to pass on something substantial.

Building and maintaining a legacy is the same as cultivating anything else important to us. We add a little here, prune there. Any investment is like a garden. If we tend it, it grows. If we do not, it becomes a field of weeds and briers. What good may be is choked out by the accumulated wastes of neglect.

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