Friday, June 29, 2007
In the spring of each school year, I team teach with Margaret. One day while we were walking to class, she said to me: "I talked with (name withheld) last night at a get together and she said to me, "Margaret, what do you want your legacy to be at Lane Community College?" Or maybe she said, "What do you think your legacy will be?"
"Raymond," she continued, "I was speechless. I've never thought about it. Do you?"
"Well," I drawled, "what do I think my legacy at LCC will be? Like what will they say about me after I leave?"
"He should have lost weight. Can I have his office? I like the skylight. Uhmm. Why'd he wait so long to go?"
Margaret laughed. "I know. Who works with a legacy in mind?"
"Well, evidently (name withheld) does."
We arrived at class.
I really admire (name withheld) and she if does such good work out of working with a legacy in mind, then bully for her.
But, I'm not a legacy guy.
I'm not a legacy guy for a couple of reasons.
First of all, I think having a legacy in mind, or being preoccupied with it, can corrupt one's work. I don't know if it corrupts any of my fellow teachers' work, but I think it does for people in leadership positions who make decisions with how they will be remembered in mind.
I'll leap to the presidency of the USA. Maybe it's just pundit talk, but it does seem to me that each president I've been old enough to be aware of (Johnson, Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush) have been preoccupied, to some degree, with protecting their legacies and have informed or not informed the public about events and goings on with their legacies in mind.
I do not single out George W. Bush with malice. He's just the man in office right now. But, how many of his and his advisors' decisions to go to war and to stay at war during his presidency have been made with his legacy in mind, with the idea of how he will be remembered by history?
Is it possible that we have continued to be at war in Iraq because Bush doesn't want a messy exit and an admission of an ill-advised mission as part of his legacy? Is it possible, or is it probable, that the Bush administration does see that this mission has become a fiasco, but that they'd rather see the next presidency saddled with the difficulties and loss of face that pulling out would give that president's legacy?
Clinton seemed obsessed, from what I've read, with his legacy and suffered humiliation, eventually, because rather than telling the truth, he put enormous time and energy into protecting how he wanted to be remembered.
That's one reason why I'm not a legacy guy. I don't want to find myself making decisions or doing things one way or another out of concern with how I'll be remembered at LCC, as if I will.
The second reason I'm not a legacy guy has to do with how I experience and think about time in relation to my work.
I almost never decide what I'm going to do in my job with the future in mind, except the future of my students. I am concerned that what I ask them to read and how I teach them to write will improve their futures, both academically and personally.
But, it's not about my legacy. Regarding time, and what I do in my work, I am very focused on the present moment. What I do in class, how I work with each student, and how I devise each assignment rises out of what I think needs to be done at that moment. It's why I very rarely take notes to class to lecture from. It's why I change things all the time in the course of the class I'm teaching and revisethe class calendar about three or four times each quarter.
I try to do what's right at a given moment, given the circumstances of a particular class and of any particular student.
I'm not thinking about my future or trying to carve out a predetermined place for myself in institutional history at LCC, a history, by the way, that I will be on the fringes of.
I think about this a lot. I wouldn't, except as a sports fan I'm always hearing commentators talk about athletes in terms of their legacy. I'm always reading or hearing about governmental leaders talked about in the same way. The same goes for people in other lines of business, whether jounalism, business, medicine, research, etc.
I think all of us are at our best when we do what we determine is the right thing in the moment we are living in.
I think consciously trying to shape one's own legacy distracts from the present moment. We have no idea by what values or within what framework those who look back on us, if they do, will remember us. We have no control over that.
What we can, to some degree, control is how we work to be honorable in the time frame we live in right now.
I should think that if one does what the moment calls for as honorably as possible, one's legacy will take care of itself.
Poured Like an Anode by raymond pert at 10:09 PM