“This is the struggle of the African people, inspired by their own suffering and experience. It is a struggle for the right to live. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society, in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunity. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve. But, if needs be, my Lord, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Nelson Mandela – Rivonia Trial – 20 April 1964
I used to be jealous of the rich kids at school. Not because they we’re rich. But because when there elder relatives died they would get all that money from there will, for nothing!
That’s what legacy meant to me. It was money, property – basically all the stuff you accumulate in life and leave behind. Indeed the dictionary goes along the same lines:
noun (plural legacies)
- an amount of money or property left to someone in a will (Oxford English Dictionary)
The death of Nelson Mandela this week got me seriously thinking about legacy. His legacy is not money or property (though of course he has both) – it’s South Africa. It’s what he did for his country and the ideals , the values he bestowed upon the world. Just as he said in that courtroom in 1964.
He knew what his legacy was long before he passed away. His morals and values we’re set. He grew as a person and some things changed, but his core values never changed.
So why do we view legacy as something that is effectively only known when we die? I mean, it’s true that people are celebrated more in death than in life. However the legacy is what drives the truly great people in life.
And that’s not just the great leaders like Nelson Mandela- it’s all the people who act to make the world a better place. I read a story about a Car Worker who went on strike during the 1980’s in South Africa. He knew that his family may not eat, that he might get fired and never have a job like that again. However it was the legacy that made his mind up.
What is it that we want to leave behind? What will we contribute to others? How do we want to be known? What kind of a world do we want our children to live in?
These are questions that are not just for the celebrated like Nelson Mandela. They are for all of us. If we start to view our actions through this prism it changes the way we look at our current or immediate decisions.
The car worker could have kept his job and not gone on strike. Nelson Mandela could have never gone to jail and accepted apartheid. However there ideals, beliefs and ultimately the legacy would not allow them to make those choices.
So knowing what we stand for, and what causes we believe in and ultimately the world we want to leave behind TODAY are what really matter.
So though I wouldn’t mind the money, in the long run I want my legacy to be priceless!