Recently I had the privilege to meet a man who was 102 years old. I was interested in and spoke with him about his memories. Here was a man who had seen World War I and II; the Korean Conflict; Vietnam and now Iraq. He saw the growth of the commercial airline and automobile industry; he lived through the development of television, movies, computers, the Internet, email and cell phones. During his lifetime, he saw the beginning of space travel and an explosion of medical advancements including treatments like heart transplants.

I asked him what was the most significant and memorable event or experience he ever had in his life. His answered shocked me, as he explained that the single most important life changing event was when he discovered his wife in bed with his best friend!

Despite all of the things, he had seen and experienced, it was this personal event, this betrayal that had the largest impact on his life and memory! What we do to other people and how we treat others will be our legacy; this is what will be remembered when are no longer here. What people remember and what influences their memory of us is our actions towards them. We can discover the cure to advanced prostate cancer or construct a building taller then the Empire State Building, but if we mistreat others those accomplishments are rendered meaningless.

Thirty years ago, I started a business enterprise that was closely related to the work my father had done and so I found that I developed clients who had known my father. I cannot tell you how often these people talked to me about how honorable and fair my father had always been to them. How he had helped them when nobody else would. Their respect and trust for my father, his legacy, lived on and contributed to my being successful.

Imagine, in over 100 years of life this man had seen it all. He saw countries and world leaders come and go. He saw people’s dreams achieved and dashed on the rocks. Despite all of this, the way he was treated served as a pivotal event in his life.

We each have the chance to write our own script, to create an individual legacy. Let us choose the plot wisely for the plot will outlive all of us.

Joel T Nowak MA, MSW