Springingtiger's Blog

Leaving a Legacy Is Best Left Alone

Some further thoughts on death and people’s relationship with it

What is all this concern that people have about leaving a legacy? I am not talking about leaving some cash for those we leave behind, but this desperate need some people seem to have to be remembered after they have gone. It seems to be a particular concern of politicians and other people in public life. I suspect it is motivated primarily from guilt and from feelings of inadequacy. When we look at the legacy of politicians very few of them leave anything of which to be proud. There are some who left a worthwhile legacy; Aneurin Bevan left us with a national health service and Harold Wilson , the Open University. On the other hand Margaret Thatcher left the legacy of a divided Britain; divided between rich and poor, North and South, trades unions and employers. She left the British people with an abiding distrust of and contempt for politicians, a political class more interested in feathering their own nests than on serving their constituents. And she drove a wedge between the peoples of England and Scotland that will never be removed. Although Tony Blair has not yet died, I think we all know that his legacy will be equally contemptible. He will be remembered for waging war on women and children without the sanction of the United Nations , and condemning hundreds of the children of the people of his country to die overseas , while keeping his own children safe at home.

I am pleased to know that some industrialists do leave a positive legacy obviously we have Andrew Carnegie but also more recently Warren Buffet and also the Bill Gates Foundation. I know that some say that the Bill Gates Foundation’s work in India is geared more to opening new markets then to helping people, but I think this is unfair, besides whatever his motivation he is doing good. Another group that seems to be desperate to be remembered are the artists, when I say,”artists” I refer to the creative professions as a whole. However whether it be politicians, soldiers, actors writers, industrialists or musicians, people seem to be gripped with a terrible fear of being forgotten. There is little point in telling them they cannot take anything with them when they go and most go only when they have no other option.

When people say they need to “leave a legacy” , I am inclined to respond with the NLP Meta Model challenge , ” Who says you need to leave a legacy?” There have been some spiritual giants who have left behind them philosophies and religious orders, but there have been very many more content to pass through the world almost unnoticed and to leave nothing behind. Werner Erhard says, “All there is to do today is what you get to do today.” The same may be said of life; a successful life is not necessarily one that leaves much behind, but rather one that is lived well and lived completely. Of what value is a legacy that leaves behind obligations, it is nothing more than a burden however well intentioned? The greatest gift anyone can have is the freedom to live their own life unconstrained by debt and obligation and to be allowed to find their own way and walk their own path. Lao Tzu was correct wham he said that when a great leader finishes his work the people say, ” We did it ourselves”.

The wise do not seek to be remembered for that is an attachment, it is better to be unthanked and free than feted and bound by the needs of others, worse still by one’s own need. Better to leave no footsteps for others to follow than walk looking over one’s shoulder rather than at your way ahead; let the wind erase your footprints while you walk towards your own light.


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