Articles By Elaine Gast Fawcett
Before you can think about what legacy you want to leave, remember the legacies of those that came before you. There's no better way to find out who you really are.
In many cultures, particularly indigenous ones, connecting with and honoring ancestors is a way of life. Think of the Navajo, who, before making any decision that affects their family or community, consult with the seven generations that came before them. Or consider Mexico’s Day of the Dead, when families welcome ancestors back into their homes and visit their loved ones’ graves. In both cases, although ancestors are no longer in their bodies, their spirit is thought to be very much alive and awake.
In our American culture, we don't tend to think of ancestors in the same way. During our lifetime, many of us uproot ourselves from our hometowns and families, moving across the nation or the world in search of careers or love or ourselves. Outside of perhaps our immediate family, we barely keep in touch with our living relatives, much less those who have passed on. Psychologists, sociologists, religious leaders, and elders all agree that this isolation and displacement from our roots is to blame for many personal and cultural ills.
It doesn't have to be like this. Now more than ever, it's incredibly easy — and personally satisfying — to learn who you ancestors were, where they lived and what mattered to them. Most of this information can be found within a few clicks of the Internet.
Say you're like me, though, and don’t have dozens of hours to devote to genealogy sites, hunting down random names, dates and Census reports. If you're not keen on joining Ancestry.com or any of the other countless sites out there, here are simple ways you can connect with the lives and stories of your ancestors:
If you’re like most people, you probably think of a Will in terms of the document that specifies where your money and your material goods will go at the end of your life. How do you pass on the things you can’t see, though? Your values and beliefs, for example, or what you envision for your philanthropy?
An ethical will is a personal, reflective document that you write to yourself, for yourself. It’s a process to help you identify the values that guide your personal and professional life, and how closely your actions match your beliefs.
It’s not hard to write an ethical will, but it does take some time and thought. It helps to write the answers with pen and paper to start. Allow yourself to write freely, and avoid the temptation to edit as you go. Remember: you can always proof and polish it later, or record it as an audio or video file. Writing it out first with your hand is a way of embodying your message.
Begin by asking yourself these questions.