What will people say about you when you’re gone? Most of us don’t get the chance to find out. But one person did. In 1888, Alfred Nobel’s brother, Ludvig, died. Many newspapers mistook Ludvig for Alfred, and so wrote an obituary on Alfred instead. A French obituary said, “Le Marchand de la mort et mort” (“The merchant of death is dead.”) Alfred was shocked to see himself described in this way. So he thought about his life (he was 55 at the time). Were they justified to call him “The merchant of death”??
Well, he was famous for inventing dynamite. And his company, Bofors, was one of the biggest arms suppliers in Europe. In fact, his inventions of detonators, dynamite and a string of ever-more deadly explosives were responsible for an enormous number of deaths. So yes, he decided, “Merchant of Death” was pretty accurate. So what did he do about it? He decided to rewrite his legacy and decide how he wanted to be remembered. Secretly, he came up with a plan for a peace prize, so he would forever be remembered for peace, not war.
He wrote in his will that his fortune would go towards a foundation that would fund five Nobel Prizes: A Peace Prize, Literary Prize, and three Science Prizes in physics, chemistry & medicine. When he died, just seven years later, his family were shocked to find he’d given almost all his fortune away.
The Foundation began with 31 million Swedish kronor. Today, that amount has grown through investments 100 times larger to 3.1 billion kronor (US$472 million). What does The Dalia Lama, Desmond Tutu, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev, Kofi Annan, Aung San Suu Kyi, Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, have in common? They are all part of Alfred Nobel’s legacy.
They are all Nobel Peace Prize Laureates (Ironically with their prize money coming from the arms trade). They have each played a part in keeping Alfred’s legacy of peace alive, over 100 years later, where everyone has heard of the Nobel Peace Prize. What will be your legacy? You don’t need to have such a destructive life, or such a global legacy, as Alfred, before you make a change. And you don’t need to read your obituary in the newspaper before you make a change. Instead, you can use this story as motivation enough to decide. We will all leave a legacy.
The only question is whether it will be accidental or deliberate. Make yours deliberate. And start it today. “Today I will behave as if this is the day I will be remembered.” ~ Dr. Seuss