“Legacy” takes on a new meaning when I get the chance to breathe the same air as living exemplars of that word.
So does another word take on a new meaning, by the same stroke. That word is “friendship”.
Last night I got to taste a room full to the brim with friendship.
That room happened to be the magnificent ballroom of one of London’s finest hotels. The event was the private milestone celebration of one of the most remarkable people I know.
A man married to a wife every bit as remarkable. And together to celebrate with them were a constellation of individuals embodying “legacy” in each their own way.
Captains of industry and society. Yet in speech after speech, chat after chat I observed, there was such warmth, admiration, affection, and respect. The Scottish blood ran strong that evening, a blood of clans and the spirit of community and grit.
If friendship be the greatest gift that one human being can offer another – which to me it is, and I don’t just mean friendship between friends, I also mean friendship between parents and children, partners personal and professional, communities and societies, cultures and countries, individuals and generations – then perhaps you might understand why I feel as honoured as I do, that Lord and Lady Leitch count me as their friend.
Born the son of a Scottish miner in difficult personal circumstances within the widespread hardship of post-WWII, Sandy Leitch’s life story of triumph against the odds must qualify, on whichever measure you could use, as the story of a life well and truly lived to its fullest potential.
But this was never a given. The leitmotif, from his earliest age through his multidimensional heights of achievement, to where he is today and where he continues to orient himself from the vantage of this peak towards even bigger challenges – a charitable foundation will be upcoming in which I have been humbled to be invited to participate, aimed at facilitating the discussion and study of an inclusive, contemporary understanding of religious and spiritual belief – the leitmotif is the dedicated, principled pursuit of excellence.
Excellence representing the fulfilment of self-potential, at the service of others.
It was relatively recently that we came to discover our common interest for the metaphysical.
For here is the best part. I am hopelessly built for the purely intellectual consideration of a subject. My fitness for purpose is entirely practical. I live and learn -in order- to *use*. I can’t stand it when there is goodness existing out there which is not being channelled to make a difference to those who need it so much.
Last night I found myself surrounded by people like this. No surprise really, when we were all gathered to celebrate the life and work of a friend like Sandy, whose legacy as it already stands has already contributed so much to public service – and I mean the full, original, honourable weight of these oft-maligned words here. Public service.
Just one illustration: Sandy led the Leitch Review of Skills, which the British government requested him to undertake in 2004-2006, “to identify the UK’s optimal skills mix for 2020 to maximise economic growth, productivity and social justice, set out the balance of responsibility for achieving that skills profile and consider the policy framework required to support it.”
Given the nature of my own work, can you imagine that we have had so many other interesting things to talk about that I haven’t even had the chance to sit him down to learn more about his spearheading of this initiative yet?!?
You bet I intend to. And, with Maximiser as my top StrengthsFinder talent theme (http://news.gallup.com/businessjournal/697/maximizer.aspx), it will come as no surprise to learn that I like to learn from the best.
My appetite for excellence is a burden sometimes, for it can be insatiable – until I learnt how to relax its unsparing grip, and balance it out with the acceptance and presence of mindfulness.
And I am finding out to my profound joy that this in turn opens me up even further to soaking up the many other tales of pursuing personal excellence around me, without the old spectre of insecurity, or challenge to sense of self-worth, rising up any more to sting.
It’s not just that it feels so much better to live an everyday absent of these insidious nips of anxiety, self-comparisons, FOMO, etc. It is more than that.
Being freed of ego this way also means I can fully hear what there is to learn from these stories like Sandy’s, like those of my three dinner companions, Adrian, Nicolas as well as Tony, with whom the animated conversations swallowed up the passing time so effortlessly, we were having so much fun – with Adrian on my left our journey of discovering common passions started from work, cross-cultural East-West challenges and our seminal introductions to meditative theory and practice, and traversed physics, mathematics and music before landing on the amazing fact that not only did both of us pursue piano performance seriously at university alongside our main degrees, we both particularly loved Liszt and even had the same favourite piece to play, Sonnetto 104 del Petrarca! (my version here: https://www.facebook.com/elaine.mosimann/posts/10154188942466921) before I turned to my right to Nicolas and found out that he shared my passion for my other favourite composer, Chopin, and then some; Chopin himself used to teach his ancestors! We then quickly discovered we shared philosophy in common, and his own college Oriel was just down the road from where I had parked my car yesterday. Excuse the uncharacteristic use of exclamation marks but he then told me he too went to Cothill!
(I’ve punctuated thus, and deliberately written this para in this way, to give you some sense of the flow of energy that was our dinner table convo last night. ☺️ The above represents the summary of about 20 minutes’ worth of a 2.5 hour dialogue. One particularly delightful and unbelievable moment came when Nicolas and I stopped conversing in German to turn to Adrian telling me something in Mandarin – both having picked up those languages for fun – and the two of them, one Scottish the other a NZer, started talking to each other, completely unexpectedly, in Mandarin…
I had to pause for a moment to drink this interaction in. I am a well-versed conversationalist most times, but the pleasure afforded by a magical moment like this was just exceptional.)
I do have a point to this narrative that I am building my way up to. 😌 (Adrian and I talked about that too – that as classically-trained musicians our capacity and predilection for long complex narrative with an inbuilt arc and rhythm is entirely musical in derivation, hard as it may be to follow.)
What I found united us all was passion, purpose, and the bigger picture. All this, put into practice.
I talked earnestly about my visions of putting critical life skills in the hands of every student and member of the workforce in Singapore. I am just at the start of this new chapter of my journey.
There has been much incomprehension, indifference, and doubt I have had to face, and continue to, even from those close to me. Some of that doubt still seeps up through inner cracks, malign seeds sown by the voices of criticism and fear that so often come clothed in the guise of “care and concern”.
I know a thing or two about that, being a woman and a Singaporean. This criticism, negativity, and pressure is so endemic in both realms, of womanhood and Singaporeanness, that others don’t see it because water is invisible to a fish.
This is what I am setting out to change. And last night was manna from the gods for this, in so many ways.
Celebrating Sandy’s life story, as a leader, father, husband, and friend. Honouring the causes to which he has devoted himself, of education, social mobility, supporting youth, healthcare, wellbeing, interfaith bridge-building, and spiritual nourishment. I wrote in my earlier post about not fearing and instead caring deeply about the big problems. The issues he and his friends are engaging willingly with are big, complex, messy problems. Depending on which perspective you choose, these issues collectively impact nothing less than the evolution of humanity.
Grandiose that might sound but if you look back at the trajectory of the last 150 years, with the invention of psychology and neuroscience as brand-new disciplines for one, and the invention of concepts like empathy for another (see https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/12/14/you-must-change-rilke-rodin-empathy/ for more), there has been an increasing overall competence in the science and art of human wellbeing that has been gaining positive traction over this relatively brief and recent slice of human history. Emotional hygiene, eudaimonic happiness, nonviolent communication, resilience and grit, mindfulness and clarity/balance, empathy and compassion, growth mindset, to name just a few.
For all the increased threats to our wellbeing stemming from our frenetic, technologized, pathologically consumerist lifestyle, there are also so many powerful tools for good that we have at our disposal now. For all the ills that an overdependence on technology brings, there is also unprecedented firepower that technology offers, to propagate better ideas to increase wellbeing on a mass scale, in cheap, interactive, enjoyable, and accessible ways.
Last night also presented a sterling case study of how one determined child from such humbling beginnings can grow up to make the world a better place, through the life he chose to lead. Gathering along the way a battalion of friends to fight the good fight alongside.
It was only when I got home to google that I found out a little more who the charming, erudite Nicolas and Tony were.
Talk about legacy. I meant what I wrote above. Both old friends, now friends of mine, too. Can you imagine how much I can learn from them, about how to build something impactful and enduring?
And can you imagine how it feels to have their interest in my ideas, and to hear them say, “I believe in your vision, Elaine. There is so much scope. I think it’s a great idea. You should do it.”
We all stand on the shoulders of giants, past and present. As Shelby Davis, American philanthropist and UWC Patron said, “the world needs dreamers and the world needs doers, but most of all the world needs dreamers who do.”
I spent the evening in the company of “dreamers who do”. And what that does is – it feeds my dreams.