PORTRAIT INTERVIEW (CONT.)

PORTRAIT INTERVIEW (CONT.)

Our Legacy: Instructions from the Past

I believe we sometimes misunderstand what people will be most interested in us after we die. We understandably define our lives by our educational, professional and social achievements. While these matters are important, they are not necessarily what will communicate strongest to posterity. They are only part of our story. Those who will want to know us in the future will also be drawn to our struggles and vulnerabilities, as we, like them, try to forge a meaningful life under challenging existential conditions. They will doubtless ask: What was that person like? How did he/she cope with life's vicissitudes? I had this idea in mind when I created Portrait Interview. And I took as a model a man who lived some 2000 years ago, yet speaks to us as if he were a contemporary. The man is Marcus Aurelius. 


Marcus Aurelius was the ultimate high-achiever with a resume to die for. In 161 AD, he became  Emperor of the Roman Empire and, automatically, the most powerful man of in the known world of his time. Marcus Aurelius was a revered statesman, philosopher and public figure.

Yet most of us, know Marcus Aurelius by a small volume of his thoughts, simply called Meditations. These sundry notes and observations, which he wrote down for himself with no intention to publication, are a private exercise to help him understand himself, clarify his ideas and exhort himself to live to the high standards of his beloved Stoic philosophy. The text was luckily rescued after his death and first published in the West in 1558. Today it is a classic taught in our schools and universities and read by people from all walks of life. It continues to be an inspiration to many of our current politicians and leaders. Meditations is what most people, outside of universities, remember of Marcus Aurelius. 

Then why has this little book held up so well over time? 

The answer, I believe, lies in the intimate view we get of a man, who, so long ago, was struggling with exactly the same questions that we all struggle with today: Who am I exactly? What am I doing here? What is the purpose of my life? How do I cope with pain and misfortune? How do I live with the knowledge of my own death? In Meditations, it is as we are overhearing Marcus Aurelius's private debate on these fundamental life questions, which in turn can elucidate our own inner conversations about these matters. 

In my interviews, people tell their stories, describing how they got to where they are. However, I am also mindful of exploring areas that might be helpful to their offspring and future generations. After many interviews, I have learned just how creative and consequential a single human life can be, and that people are willing to record their lives so that others, now and into the future, might understand themselves better, is a wonderful and generous act.

 
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