By Brett Coffman, Ph.D., CFP®, ACFBA, EA
Meanwhile we are enchanted with television shows like Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, Jr., where family history research is conducted and presented to a celebrity, who takes in the new information about ancestors with great interest and sometimes in life transforming ways. That information and those connections have great value. The pandemic has further surfaced our human need for connection and purpose like no event in recent history.
The Conscious Legacy
Legacy can be both unconscious and conscious. Regardless of whether there is an intent to leave a legacy, you are leaving one. It can be financial, it can be in your wit, or wisdom. It can be your time and your charitable purpose. It can be a place, writings, or a way of living. It is encompassed in your influence on others now and in the future. It is passed as financial, family, social, and human capital. However, if you don't pass on your life experience by consciously leaving a legacy, the wisdom you've gained through decades of difficult learning may disappear far too soon.
Legacy involves leaving things that create a sense of pride and help future generations live more fully. We have an accomplished client who is currently working with a personal historian to record the important family stories with associated lessons learned, values cemented, and hope for the future. The next generation who can tell the stories of their family’s immigration, achievements and challenges is far more likely to pass on that history, be well grounded and able to successfully maneuver in and face a challenging world. Great life lessons are buried in that history waiting to be uncovered and used. Further, research shows that without a sense of working to create a legacy, adults lose meaning in their life.
Consider different aspects of how legacy can be defined:
A Timeless Legacy - Confucius
One of the most well documented and preserved legacies in human history is that of Confucius. Over the centuries, the philosopher has become one of the most important and recognizable symbols of traditional Chinese culture. Confucius or Kong Zi (551-479 BCE) was a thinker, political figure, educator, and founder of the Ru School of Chinese thought that encourages justice and peace that became known as Confucianism. He was from the village of Qufu in the Shandong Province.
Fung Yu-lan, a 20th century authority on the history of Chinese thought, compares Confucius' legacy or influence in Chinese history with that of Socrates in the West. His teachings and legacy, preserved in the Analects, form the foundation for Chinese opinion on the ideal man, how such an individual should live his life and interact with others, and the political teachings addressing society and government in which he should participate. He championed strong family loyalty, respect of elders by their children, respect for and proper treatment of spouses, and the family as a basis for an ideal government.
Examples of Confucius Timeless 2,500-Year-Old Wisdom
The Confucius Legacy
Confucius teachings about harmony, benevolence and righteousness have influenced everything from the makeup of political institutions to the dynamics of everyday relationships. He has been a catalyst for social change. He has provided a code for interaction with others that has stood the test of time. Has created a sense of pride among descendants that has kept them connected.
Confucius called upon people to be kind and reflect goodness in the manner they interact with others, insisting that doing so does not require an individual to have a fine appearance, powerful social rank or excellent speech. Today, he is quoted often by world leaders. Hundreds of Confucius Institutes have been set up on university campuses around the world. There are numerous temples dedicated to promoting his philosophy. There is an annual festival to celebrate him in his hometown. In addition, Confucius was made into a worldwide opera and dance drama that premiered in 2013.
Interestingly, before his death, Confucius was not convinced that his teachings had made an important impact. After his death in 479 B.C., followers of his philosophy organized a funeral and established a period of mourning as a way of honoring him, after which his teachings grew in popularity. By the 4th century BC, his teachings started to spread widely. His philosophy became the basis state ideology during the first Han Dynasty in the 2nd century BC.
Confucius Genealogy Compilation Committee
Although a father of only one son and two daughters (one died in childhood), 2,500 years later, descendants’ number over 2 million and have scattered around the globe, but stay connected to and take great pride in their distant grandfather and his wisdom.
Based in Hong Kong, The Confucius Compilation Committee is responsible for maintaining what the Guinness Book of World Records certified as the world’s longest family tree. In September 2009, the Confucius Genealogy Compilation Committee released the fifth edition of the Kong family tree. It was led by Kong Deyong, a 77th-generation descendant and head of the World Federation of Confucius Descendants.
It is a monumental task to collect, collate, update and publish 2,500 years’ worth of genealogical data and it was an 11-year project. It spans 80 volumes and weighs more than half a ton, covers 83 generations and over two million descendants. The process was aided by the identification of Confucius’s genetic signature in 2006. The Confucius Genealogy, originally recorded by hand, was first printed in 1080 AD during the Northern Song Dynasty. Since then, it had been revised only five times, during the reigns of Ming Emperor Tianqi, Qing Emperors Kangxi, and Qianlong, in 1937 during the Republican period, and then in 2009.
It has been said that everyone leaves a trail in this world. What is it that you want to leave this world, your nation, community, and family? The giving and receiving of legacies can evoke, a large spectrum of human emotions: hope, longing, regret, anxiety, fear, dread, jealousy, bitterness, rage, a sense of failure, a sense of accomplishment, pride, contentment, joy, gratitude, humility, and love.
Legacy can be far reaching and lasting. Confucius did not imagine over 2 million descendants, over 100 institutes, a philosophy that has transcended economic and government regimes, and being widely quoted 2,500 years after his life. Similarly, it is unlikely that the real impact of your legacy will be recognized in your lifetime. However, the power of your influence to connect future generations and help them feel there is something larger than themselves that they are connected with should not be underestimated.