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June 23, 2012

Ethical Wills – Your Legacy in Your Words

In the Western world, talking directly about the reality of death—our own or that of a loved one—is generally frowned upon. It is almost always uncomfortable, as evidenced by our avoidance of the word itself and its grammatical variations: dead; die; died; dying; death. Instead we substitute: passing away; passed; gone; and even ‘no longer with us.’ Softening the language helps us deal with feeling the loss of control that seems to come along with dying.

legacy for multiple generationsAt some point in our lives we begin to think about what we have done with the time already behind us and how we would like to be remembered. Our sense of being at the end of life may be that we aren’t even close…and anyway, we’ll be (forgive me) dead so who cares how we are remembered by family and friends? Well, my fellow citizen of the world, think about that again—you have a chance to leave a gift to those closest to you which they can weave into the fabric of their lives and all who they encounter going forth.

In case you are thinking, “Oh brother—some off-shoot of the ‘New Age’ just when I was feeling good about escaping Yoga, Meditation, and tofurkey,” stay calm. This idea has been around at least 3,500 years or so. Maybe you have heard of it, maybe not. It is called the Ethical Will.

An Ethical Will is not about dividing up tangible items after your death, but instead it is about leaving a clear description of the values you believe in as they support the ethical standards (including moral standards) you have and still do live by. It is about passing that clear description on for your survivors to build upon, and for the world to add to a kind of global ethical mindfulness resource bank we all contribute to in the ways we choose to live each day.

Here is an excellent site full of wonderful examples of Ethical Wills, sometimes called Legacy Letters, and showing us that how you choose to relate the content of your own can be as elaborate or as simple as you wish.


I have had the privilege of being a hospice volunteer for a large medical provider in the Pacific Northwest for the last 20+ years. As a member of the Ethical Wills training for hospice volunteers, I found myself assigned to write my own version before the training continued on the next weekend. I struggled right up until the Friday before Saturday’s resumption of training…that contemplative part of the creative process for me generally needs to be more open-ended than a week-long interim deadline provides. Finally, though, I “got it.”

My Ethical Will took the form of a well-remembered story when I was 6 or 7 years old about going with my grandmother to find a very poor family she had sheltered in some ramshackle former farm buildings on my grandfather’s farm in Illinois. The big picnic basket I thought was going to be ours for lunch turned out to contain a week’s worth of food for this desperate woman and her four children who had been abandoned by her husband.

My grandparents were also poor, but they had more than this young family, and the lesson of love and generosity toward our fellow human beings was simply demonstrated by my grandmother as she invited me, her eyes sparkling, to help her carry the big basket to the door where mother and children awaited. She knew that I was awash with the empathy that would inform my character for the rest of my life. I learned that day that sympathy alone does not join hearts like empathy does, knowing that this life is a balance—a give and take as needed—always based on love.

One of the best things about working on your version of an Ethical Will is recalling all the examples you can of the wisdom that was passed along to you in big and small ways. You may want to create an Oscar-worthy production, or you may want to tell just one story, but you will realize that you are creating something of yourself—just you—that will live on in support of the best we humans can be.

Share your experience of writing an ethical will or legacy letter (or helping someone to else do that) in the comment area below.

Other excellent resources:





June 11, 2012

Discovering a New Way to Be Human and “Polish the World”

We don’t often stop to think about how the way we choose to manifest our unique humanity impacts ourselves and the world around us.  We are not conscious of the limitations we place on ourselves by old ways of being.  Yet we live in a world that needs our courage, creativity and imagination.

A New Way To Be HumanIn his best selling book, A New Way to Be Human, nationally recognized speaker and author Robert V. Taylor explores the question of how we can each leave a footprint of compassion in the world by tapping into our personal spirituality and innate values.  We had the opportunity to talk with him recently about his ideas for more fully realizing our human potential.

DTPF:  What motivated you to write A New Way to Be Human?

RT:  To invite readers to be happy and change the world. The sense of helplessness and disengagement that so many people feel about the world – “My voice doesn’t matter; my actions don’t really count” – leads you to clutch at life. There is another way! To live into the fullness of being human; to discover your magnificence and the truth that the world needs your active engagement as much as you do. The book invites readers into a more fulsome, happy and engaged new way to be human.

DTPF:  You speak in your book about connecting with stories – our own and those of others. How do we know which stories are the most important to share?

RT:  Listen for the ones that make you feel alive, along with those that scare you. Pay attention! When you know your story and can be compassionate about every part of it – the wonder, regret, shame and joy – you tell it knowing that eternal wisdom and truth is revealed through your story. You then find yourself listening compassionately to the stories of others, attentive to the eternal truths and wisdom being revealed. Not every story is safe to share with just anyone but you will know that intuitively. Sharing your story you discover common ground with the most unexpected people. As you share who you are – not just what you do – your stories remind you that we need one another in order to be human. It’s a life-changing way of living each day and claiming your voice in the world.

DTPF:  One of the ideas you discuss in A New Way to Be Human is the limitations – enclosures – that we allow ourselves and others to place around us. What is the best way to recognize the enclosures we experience in our lives so that we can address them?

RT:  Become aware of the things that you resist doing or think you’re not good enough or loved enough for. Beware of choices that are driven not by your passion and desire but by the needs of others or the habit of pleasing them. Each of those things constrains you, holding you back from your magnificence. They squelch your voice and cramp your compassion. You serve no one’s good by hiding behind whatever encloses you from being fully alive, happy and engaged. The book offers practical tools for stepping beyond what encloses you from your fullest self.

Robert V. Taylor – Repairing the World

DTPF:  You talk in your book about reflecting the imagination of the Holy and “polishing the world?” What exactly to you mean by that?

RT:  Our greatest failures come from a lack of imagination. When you chose to embrace your imagination life is different. Instead of looking at the world and accepting it the way it is you imagine the way it can be. That’s engaging and enlivening! Every seemingly small action that you do to make something better in the lives of others, in your community, school or in world helps to change and polish the world. What you do matters! Your actions allow the humanity of others to flourish. Lives and communities have a new shine to them!

DTPF:  One memorable story in your book has to do with your friend Joe who had stopped following the news because it ultimately made him feel helpless. This is something that many people experience today. Can you tell us how Joe was able to turn that deeply felt negativity around in his life?

RT:  Joe heard the challenge of a good friend to stop being disengaged and to see in the news an invitation to be part of changing the story line from bad to good news! Of course there are lots of terrible things in the world. But when we sit back we give them power. We are hard wired for love and compassion and we know it when discover life-giving energy by choosing to do something. As Joe responded to his friend’s challenge he found that he was drawn to stories about girls and young women denied education in many parts of the world. The bad news of those stories led him to learn about people and organizations doing something to give women access to education. It is probably one of the most transformative changes imaginable for the human family. So Joe got involved in an organization working in partnership with local organizations to provide that access. It’s changed his life. He’s no longer a helpless victim of life. He’s become an active participant in change and says he’s more fully alive because of it.

DTPF:  Many of us grow up being told that to think of others is virtuous, but that thinking of one’s self is not. How can your book help us better understand the difference between looking inward with love to learn who we are versus just being egotistical?

RT:  Loving yourself is the greatest lesson and gift you will ever receive! You develop tenderness for yourself – warts and all. When you love yourself without conditions you want your own well-being. That’s where you discover happiness and how to be happy. With each step you take you become more compassionate about yourself. But none of this is a personal treasure to hoard. You discover that other people are loveable too – with all of their quirks. You can’t help but yearn for their well-being too. You desire happiness for all people. Loving yourself is the exact opposite of being egotistical! It makes you more fully human and alive because you realize that we need one another, that we’re inter-connected. Self-love becomes a generous outpouring of love for others.

DTPF:  You share a great quote in your book related to “limitless imagination.” You shared the story of a woman, Zelda who, because of the demands of her corporate career, was denying the “invitation to let go of the pause button” on her imagination. How can each of us learn to let go of the pause button on our own imagination?

RT:  Listen to the tweets that your passions send you! There may be just one thing that you’re passionate about, that makes you feel alive. Pay attention – it’s the Universe inviting you to live life fully with whatever your gift is. That’s where you discover limitless imagination. When you choose to not listen to your passions and imagination you hit the pause button on your life. Imagine if any of your heroes had paused their imagination – the environmental, civil rights, gender equality, LGBT and other movements exist because of imagination that is alive and engaged! The world needs your imagination at work every day as much as you do – it’s how change happens.

DTPF:  How would you describe being “at home in your heart” to a group of young people today?

RT:  Listen to your heart! Science reminds us that our heart and brain are connected and when we only live in our head space we miss out on our heart pointing us to happiness, purpose and meaning. Celebrate the people and places who make your heart space alive and detach from the toxic people whose energy limits your ability to be at home in your heart. Allow your heart to feed your intuitive response to the people, places and causes that make you at home by filling you with life-giving energy.

DTPF:  What is the most important idea your book can offer a young person who wants to better their lives and those around them?

RT:  Love yourself and share that love! Be kind to someone today, speak out on something you care about, take an action to make the world a more just place. Love – it’s in your DNA. Love like it’s the best day of your life.