First, let’s explore what a legacy may mean. Here’s an interesting perspective from author Stephen R. Covey.
There are certain things that are fundamental to human fulfillment. The essence of these needs is captured in the phrase “to live, to love, to learn, to leave a legacy.” The need to live is our physical need for such things as food, clothing, shelter, economical well-being, health. The need to love is our social need to relate to other people, to belong, to love and to be loved. The need to learn is our mental need to develop and grow. And the need to leave a legacy is our spiritual need to have a sense of meaning, purpose, personal congruence, and contribution. (The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, 1989)
When it comes to values, are there any guarantees that our grandchildren will actually embrace our legacy? Will they proudly transmit our cultural or religious heritage? Will they treasure our Bubbie’s handwritten recipe book from the old country? Will they teach their own children to love the Chicago Cubs? The reality is, there are no guarantees of any of it. Here’s the best we can do, the best we should hope for:
- That through ongoing Teaching-and-Learning, throughout our lifetime, and by the example of how we’ve lived each day, our grandchildren will know what our values are and why they matter to us so deeply; and even if they don’t share all of these values or even agree with them, they will respect them.
- That they will grow into people of strong morals, passions, family-feeling, and convictions-the kinds of people who will strive to leave behind their own meaningful legacies.
Naturally, in thinking about our legacy to our grandchildren, we must never ignore the powerful influence of the generation in-between—our adult children—and the fact that the beliefs and values they wish to instill in their offspring rightfully take precedence over ours.
We all know that adult children sometimes take paths that strongly diverge from how we raised them. It is terribly important never to undermine or underestimate how difficult such situations can be, especially in regard to (for example) religious differences, when one generation or the other is extremely devout.
Yet, in all faiths and belief systems, “peace in the family, harmony in the home” is a core value. For us, as family elders, to steadfastly uphold this principle may be the most important legacy we can leave.