“Whatever we do for ourselves we take to the grave but whatever we do for others we leave behind.”
When we die, our possessions will be distributed according to a will in which we allocated property to specific people.
Things left for people in a will are called an inheritance and they are tangible. But a legacy is intangible and has a much deeper meaning. It is intangible and placed inside of people. It is also capable of outliving the inheritance.
I hear that in Jewish tradition, people write “ethical wills” in which they pass on to the next generation, especially their children, the gift of wisdom and good wishes. This legacy is far more profound and permanent than bequests of property.
An ethical will is often a personal letter to the most important people in our lives. It conveys our values, convictions and hopes. An ethical will is also an autobiography – not of events and dates, but of the insights and intuitions that define who we are and tell our family what we stand for and what we think is important – our values and driving principles.
A few years ago, in place of Christmas cards, we began a tradition of writing such personal letters to our children. They provide a priceless and prized source of loving advice and can become treasured family heirlooms. Because they are about ethics, they also can become a moral compass that helps them navigate their way through the treacherous paths of life to a worthy, happy and fulfilling one.
Yet no matter how highly cherished these letters can be for those who receive them, the process of writing them can change our perspective and cause us to readjust our own priorities. Nothing can be more gratifying. It is the ultimate gift to bequeath our cherished ones.
“At the end of our lives, we do not regret the things at which we failed, we regret the things we wished for but never attempted.”
Richie Dayo Johnson is an experiential specialist and consultant in communication and human behaviour. He works with aspiring leaders, high net-worth individuals and multinational organisations in Europe and Africa. He presently oscillates between the two continents depending on work and family commitments.
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