[OUTLOOK]Echoes through eternity“How will I be remembered after I die?” This question usually hits a person who is lazy and dragged along by life. This question is also posed by a person who has lost his way and is wandering along an aimless path. The question can also penetrate through the self-complacency and arrogance that accumulates upon some people like a layer of fat around an indolent body.
That question may sound like it’s all about looking back on the past, because it contains the word “remember.” But in fact, it is related to the present and to the future, which is why it can be such a frightening question. And if one wants a decent life, one cannot avoid giving an answer. As the Roman gladiator Maximus said, “What we do in this life echoes through eternity.”
About one year ago, Peter Drucker, the world-class expert on business, passed away at the age of 96. He faced the question for the first time when he was 13, after a teacher wrote it on a blackboard.
Studying the faces of his pupils, the teacher said, “You may find this question odd now, but when you are turning 50 you will find this question is like a spike penetrating deep into your heart.”
Mr. Drucker and his alumni were reunited 60 years after their graduation from high school. Recalling the teacher, one of them confessed that he could not have achieved as much as he had were it not for the question, “How will I be remembered?” He said the question had been nagging at him like a thorn in his side his whole life and helped him rid himself of arrogance and laziness. Everybody agreed with him. Mr. Drucker also was able to remain passionate and alert and to keep working until he was in his 90s because he always kept the question in his mind until the moment he died.
The question “How will I be remembered?” also changed the life of Alfred Nobel, the founder of the Nobel Prize organization. On Nov. 27, 1895, Mr. Nobel published a will that announced he would use all his assets to create meaningful prizes in fields that benefited humanity.
He was prompted to make this decision because he had read his own obituary in a newspaper.
In 1888, seven years before he endowed his famous prize, Alfred Nobel’s older brother, Ludvig Nobel, died in Cannes, France. One newspaper mistakenly ran Alfred’s obituary instead of Ludvig’s and called him a “merchant of death.” Having read this judgement, Alfred Nobel’s world changed forever.
Mr. Nobel was, at the time, one of the world’s most important businessmen and possessed more than 350 patents, including one for dynamite. Others covered more than 90 businesses making bombs and ammunition.
But he realized that his life’s work would probably mean that he would be remembered as a “merchant of death” by most people. He couldn’t accept that and had to do something about it.
In the seven years that followed, he asked himself the question, “How will I be remembered?” Then, he decided to give away his assets so he would be recalled as the founder of the world’s most meaningful prize, not as a merchant of death. The question that must penetrate the life of every human being produced a dramatic change in his life.
The question “How will I be remembered?” opens a new road to the future. It makes one reflect on one’s past and forces one to do one’s best today, while trying to do better in the future in order to leave a worthwhile legacy.
Now is the time to ask the question in our own country. The president must ask himself how he will be remembered by the people.
Businessmen should think about how they will be remembered by customers. Parents should think about how their children will remember them. Teachers should ask themselves how they will be remembered by their students.
And we should ask ourselves how the times we live in now will be remembered by history.
*The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.
by Chung Jin-hong