The founding father of a nation almost always tends to be a larger-than-life figure. Such leaders have a tendency to attract both applause and condemnation–on the home front as well as abroad. They have to simultaneously deal with internal and external conflicts which threaten to dismantle everything that they have built; as well as everything that they are yet to build. Much of this is due to the very nature of their leadership role. They are the crucial custodians of a critical moment in their nation’s history and will go on to become iconic figures.
There are many factors that can determine a leader’s legacy–from their own individual personality, to the chapters of history that they were pivotal in transforming, as well as the mixed outcomes of their decision-making on the people who were under their care.
In the former colonies, the transformative chapter from oppression to freedom was fraught with uncertainty, fear and even desperation. To create economic stability, many of these leaders had to make unpopular decisions that even created more strife in the short-term, but greatly benefited the population as a whole in the long-term.
This requires a leader to be bold as well as exercise caution.
We humans have a tendency to quickly forget the past. The more painful the memory, the more quickly we want to forget it. Perhaps it is only a natural survival mechanism–for us to want to put the painful chapters behind us so that we can move on with our lives. But by ignoring, diminishing or downplaying these painful episodes, we forget the intricate web of events that forged our collective and individual destiny.
During peacetime, we are filled with optimism and confidence. For the youth, in particular, their dreams for their future are starting to take shape. Yet youths remain largely unaware of the events that have shaped our present and the painful and difficult steps that had to be taken for a nation to embark upon on a pathway of peace and prosperity.
While a sensitivity to our historical past can help us to understand why our forebears did what they did and why they took the decisions they took; it cannot help us to carve out our future. If we allow ourselves to dwell on the past longer than is necessary, we run the risk of wasting precious time and resources rallying against past inequities in an attempt to re-write a story that has already been written.
Regardless of whether the ship is sinking or sailing, the captain of the ship has to work with–and not against–the circumstances they are presently contending with.
For the founding fathers, it took a tremendous amount of will, energy and foresight to take on and execute the unpopular tasks that were necessary to build a legacy that would outlive them. The founding fathers often caution those who came after them to be wary of the complacency that comes with growing up in an unprecedented period of growth and prosperity.
From a certain angle, it can be said that a leader who has won a pivotal battle will have to fight many more in its wake. This requires the leader to set himself or herself increasingly more difficult and ambitious new challenges when heavy hardships are no longer handed to them by default.
It is a fraught journey–seeking freedom from a past that had you shackled in chains–both literally but also metaphorically. Independence was only the beginning of the battle. In the wake of freedom, new nations were born. Freedom, however, cannot build infrastructure or sustain the needs of a large population with diverse needs.
There are many moving targets that leaders have to contend with throughout the course of their career. Some of these targets are economic; others are social and others are in the domain of international relations. It is how a leader manages to merge these moving targets and create unity amongst disparate goals that will define a leader’s legacy after they are gone.
Even when the founding fathers pass on, they leave with work that is incomplete. Well, they had their time… and it is now someone else’s turn to either continue their legacy or to create a completely new one.
But before we can create a new legacy, we need to come to a conclusion on what exactly it is that we’re trying to achieve. Once that is ascertained, it is a matter of finding–or creating–the path that will lead us to our destination.
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