How can you leave an intellectual legacy?

As I’m now on day three of pondering legacies, I feel like I should throw out a bit more explanation of what I mean by the word. When I think about what my legacy will be, or say that I hope or plan to work toward a specific type of legacy in one area or another, I emphatically am NOT saying “This is all about me! I want to be revered for all time!” I think what I’m getting at with the concept of a legacy is having a sense of purpose for my life, having lifelong goals and making sure that I’m spending my life in ways that really count. It’s not about my name, it’s about being used by God for His good purposes. Many of the greatest legacies go unsung, but that shouldn’t be used as a crutch to justify thinking that how you spend your life doesn’t matter. My point in writing about legacy is to think through my own goals and what benchmarks I would use to know if I am moving toward a good legacy or just treading water with no sense of purpose. Hopefully it’s at least somewhat thought-provoking for you too!

Onward.

Today I’m contemplating intellectual legacy. I think the key question (again) is not “do I have an intellectual legacy?” but rather “is it a good one?” Every conversation is about ideas and is built on beliefs and philosophy. Everyone has some set of beliefs about how the world works and how things ought to be done – it’s just a question of how coherent it is and how good you are at expressing it.

In college I took a class on practical ethics with Peter Singer. I disagree with him on just about every possible point, but I thought the class was fantastic because he challenged the students to consistency. For example, if you really believe that wearing fur is wrong, you need to stop wearing that leather belt you have on. It’s easy to go along saying you believe ABC but your actions show you really think something else entirely. I think one of the ways to be mindful about my intellectual legacy is to be careful in maintaining consistency between my beliefs and my conversation, writing, and actions.

Another component to intellectual legacy is how you express your ideas. You can have the greatest, most coherent philosophy out there but if you are needlessly argumentative, unable to consider other people’s points of view respectfully, or too afraid of controversy to express your thoughts in the first place, that’s not much of a legacy. Personally I find this especially difficult when it comes to politics and public policy issues.

I find it easiest to express my ideas through writing, and I am currently thinking about how best to use what I feel like is a calling to write. I write on my blog obviously, and I hope that is helpful to people in some way (if not, I’d still do it because I love it), but I’m also working on a novel and praying about what God wants me to say with my writing. Novels are powerful vehicles for conveying ideas and changing perceptions, and I want my writing to be a useful contribution to the marketplace of ideas. That said, I am not going to hold my breath until I become a renowned novelist – sometimes you have to write something just to discover the truth about yourself, and if I’m the only person who ever learns from my stories, that’s OK with me too.

Another way I’m building toward an intellectual legacy is in opening the world of ideas to my children. I think I’m drawn to classical education and the Charlotte Mason approach because I want my children to be surrounded by the Great Conversation of the best ideas of history. I don’t want their understanding of their world to be limited to “books about books” or useless trivia, I want them to interact with ideas. I believe that all truth is God’s truth and that an education that incorporates the best thoughts of our tradition is an excellent legacy. This sort of thing can’t be put off until high school or college although certainly there are lots of sources that can be best understood at those ages – I want my children to be exposed to the best literature and culture at every level because I want them to value and understand the beauty of language and art and music and nature and how those can be used to glorify God.

These are the directions I’m heading toward an intellectual legacy right now (subject to change as God wills, of course). How about you?

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