Legacy Building

Legacy Building


We live in such an instant world – instant coffee, instant burgers, instant whip, instant cream, instant gelo – the list is endless. We even have instant policy making with presidents tweeting their policy announcements! This was driven home when I saw a commercial that was extolling the ‘virtue’ of impatience.


However, the reality is often very different. Planning and preparation do normally pay off.  But how much planning? Even in this area we seem to be looking for immediacy. We think of planning in terms of planning an event or a six-months plan. If you are in business it might be a 5-year plan. Financial advisors and ‘life coaches’ often talk about 10, 20 or 25 year plans – they ask us “where do you want to be in the next x amount of years”.


But what about having a 500 year plan?!! I once met someone who asked me “so Ian, what is your 500 year plan?” After I had picked my jaw up off the ground we started to explore the concept. In our ‘modern’ culture and mindset we don’t often think about the legacy we want to leave, we tend to live in the moment. Much of the time we are self-centred - not necessarily selfish - but we tend to live as if we are the centre of our world and what is happening (especially to us) is the most pressing thing. We don’t think of building a legacy or heritage or inheritance for those coming after us. If we want proof of this we just need to look at what we have done and are still doing to our planet. It is a living, unfolding example of the prevailing attitudes of modern cultures, especially in the west, in their quest and appetite for living in the immediate with little thought for the legacy we will leave for the future.


However, ancient cultures seem to have an intuitive sense of legacy building and leaving a lasting heritage. The question asked of me had come from a person who was rooted in an ancient culture. Originally, he had been asked what his 5 year plan was and his response had been I am more interested in what my 500 year plan is!


So, the question for us is this:


When the dust has settled, when my family name has been removed from the earth ~ when all the photographs, books, achievements are gone and forgotten ~ when there is no physical trace of me left ~ what will live on ~ what legacy of values and ‘spirit’ will live on? What imprint will be left?!


What a concept. What a challenge.

Let me try and affirm the concept with this example of a five hundred year plan I came across when I was reading the publicity for the Greenbelt Festival held in Cheltenham in the UK a number of years back:

“In the C14th New College Oxford built a new dining hall with a series of huge oak beams. About half a millennium later, at the end of the C19th, the beams needed replacing. Being a wealthy institution the College owned some land and wondered if there were any oak trees on the land they could use for the restoration. So the search began and they started approaching tenant farmers.  'Ah...' said one of the tenants that they spoke to 'We wondered when you'd be in touch.'

It turned out the farmers back in the C14th had planted a new grove of oak trees to replace those they had cut down to provide the dining hall beams. The tradition was then passed through the generations, one farmer to another: these oaks were to be protected, and set aside until New College needed them. Through the generations, the farmers were waiting, from one century to another. They waited for 500 years to provide for the need.”

This was the legacy of unknown farmers, whose names are now forgotten. There were no photographs, no real physical trace of them existed but their legacy had an impact 500 years on.

The challenge and the choice is set before us, the question is: how will we respond? Will we plan to impact a world we may never experience with the legacy of our ‘five hundred year plan’, will we have the courage to hope and work for a world that we leave before it arrives?


So, whether it be green and environmental issues ~ value, ethical or moral issues ~ or some other passion you may have ~ just living for now, just having our eye to our life’s end is not enough. We need to address the issues of what our legacy to future generations is going to be? What is your 500 year plan going to be?


Are you willing to leave an imprint without a signature?

Ian Rowlands