what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Legacies - personal and collective

I woke this morning with thoughts of a website devoted to vignettes of those who had lived (or were living) “worthy lives”. The adjective perhaps misleads – it has a condescending note to it. But the “good life” which seemed initially the better phrase to denote the subject of my thoughts seems to hold such meanings as sybaritism; self-sufficiency and ecological sensitivity; or Christmas cracker lists.
Legacy is a word to conjure with. At one level, it has promise of future riches; at another level it is about accounting for our past actions. One of the most powerful mental exercises is imagining you are at your own funeral and anticipating what people will say about you. Then exploring what changes you should and can make in your life to be more like the person you would like to be (remembered as).
I’ve been re-watching the West Wing television series and was particularly taken with the episode entitled 365 days. After a heart attack, Jed Bartlett’s Chief of Staff has returned to the White House just before the final year of the President’s second term. He sits watching the President’s previous State of the Union addresses, then brings the staff together and says 
We’ve been here 7 years. Done some things we’re proud of; things we’re less pleased about…It may be time for us to take our own temperature, an internal inventory…What’s done. What’s undone. What’s done that we’d like to undo or do over.
Even as Leo McGarry speaks, people are being called out of the meeting to deal with various crises. When they return he reminds them of how much power they have to change lives, writes the numbers 365 on the whiteboard to emphasise how few days/little time is left – and asks them what they would actually like to achieve in this time. The relief is palpable – people’s cynicism disappears and ideas come thick and fast.  

Not only crises but routine and the need for survival make it difficult to give much thought to the question of whether our impact (both as an individual and as a group member) on other people is as positive as it might be.
I’m at the stage of my life when such questions matter. And find it sad that we seem to need to wait for someone’s death before we really appreciate them. And that, even then, we don’t seem able to celebrate them and their values properly. Twenty years after my father’s death I still can’t decide how his memory (and values) can best be served. And I now have this ridiculous idea that my various papers and scribbles (let alone strivings) might be worth preserving in some sort of way – only as an example, I hurry to add, of one 20th century man’s attempt to make sense of the life he was given. I have been lucky with the level and breadth of work opportunities I've had (both in UK and abroad); was given a love of reading and culture; and am keen to share. These are the distinctive aspects of my life. 
And there must be many thousands of people who are generous in their assessments of people and keen to share. Why don’t we connect more?  The media give so many bad role models. Isn't it about time we fought back?    
That's why I woke up thinking about a website celebrating the lives of those (particularly the less famous) who make other peoples' lives worth living........    

By the way, the link I've given to West Wing is a Clive James piece which must be read simply as an example of how to bring the English language alive. I have pulled from my shelves his Cultural Amnesia - notes on the margin of my time (2007) which must be one of the all-time great books, celebrating people we simply didn't know existed. 

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