It’s about a year since Ahmed “Kathy” Kathrada passed away. Kathy fought apartheid alongside icons like Nelson Mandela. Mandela, South Africa and the world at large held Kathy in high esteem. I write this shortly after reading breaking news of Winnie Madikizela-Mandela‘s passing. Winnie fought apartheid. Her and Nelson were married at some point. She was 81.
For some reason I was thinking about the anniversary of Kathy’s death when I saw the news about Winnie. Hence the references to them. When Nelson Mandela passed away I thought about what makes a great legacy. I wrote some of my thoughts here. Thinking about Kathy and Winnie, again, made me think about the nature of legacies and how we remember people.
History is not short of men and women of great renown for varied reasons. Some people’s contributions to humanity give us something to aspire to. Other people’s legacies make for good bad examples. You know, perfect examples of what not to be.
I’m fascinated by people’s legacies. That is, what they leave behind. Things they are remembered for; their contribution. The older I get, the more I confirm that people are not always wholly good or bad. People, and in turn, their legacies, are generally more nuanced than often acknowledged.
The Inferred Stuff
Legacies are, to a great extent, also inferred. The equation of legacies: part what people actually did and part how we view and remember what they did. Some people are heroes posthumously while others vilified. We see this, for example, with the Rhodes Must Fall movement in South Africa and debates on confederate statures in the United States.
History revisited makes us see heroes or villains in different light. Sometimes we can’t decide whether the heroes or the villains are what or who they were.
The Nuanced; The Complicated
We’re complicated. Of course, there are those people who are undeniably ‘great’. And yes, the coin does have two sides– there are equally not so good people and legacies. This brings me to the polarising figures. You know the ones we can’t conclusively say whether they were good or bad. The complicated, because people and how they live is complicated.
For some reason we seem to be averse to composites. The nuanced and complicated. Yet this is how people live. Our motives and actions are often not ‘either or’. There’s the ‘both and’. Dynamic. Heroes can act maliciously and villains benevolently.
Sometimes the debate is not between good and evil but good and good. We’re all guilty of trying to simplify people and their legacies. Not all the time. Our heroes are as fallible as we are. Those we view as villains also have some things in common with us. Our dark motives and actions.
We must acknowledge and embrace the complicated nature of people and their motives. Legacies can be remembered in different ways. They can be celebrated or commemorated in a way that remind us what not to be. Remembering ‘heroes’ can also give us ideals to aspire to.
How we remember and see people and their actions in history or recent times also says much about who we are. It reveals things we value.
In The End — The Nature Of Legacies
Where it is obvious that someone is or was great or not, I generally view them in that light. At the same time, I’m learning to be OK with the complicated. I’m learning more to wrestle with the perplexing and complicated composites of people. Not only that but try to understand better why.
Sometimes legacies are good as debates. Tension. It does ourselves, as individuals, and the world at large some good. Maybe what we think is or was good isn’t what it seems. Not having any conclusions about some legacies might be what we need more. In those instances, we won’t feel the need to defend what we’ve assimilated into our way of life.
Legacies we celebrate get embedded into the operating systems of our lives and define us in profound ways.
Legacies we celebrate creep into our lives. They’re embedded into the operating systems of our lives and define us in profound ways. (Click to Tweet)
In architecture, tension can be what holds structures together. This can be true of some of the aspects of our lives. Be OK with the tension. It’s good to revisit the nature of legacies from time to time. The wrestling. What made or makes someone great or not?
Also published on Medium.