OPINION – How would you want to be remembered when your life is over? What kind of legacy would you want to be associated with your name?
These questions seem as though they’d be easy to answer—until a person actually starts to think about what that answer says about their motivations.
A desire to change the world for the better can be a noble aspiration, but doing it for the right reasons isn’t always so easy.
Henry Van Dyke’s short story “The Mansion” perfectly illustrates why this is so.
It’s a fictional account of a late 19th century banker and philanthropist named John Weightman. The tale begins by recounting Weightman’s undeniable financial success and the subsequent tall shadow his status throws across his community and even his home state.
The reader can’t help but feel a certain sense of admiration for all that John Weightman has been able to accomplish. As the story progresses, however, it becomes clear that the motives behind his philanthropy are missing the mark in some ways.
John Weightman’s wise decisions concerning his business and investments have paid off immensely. He has diligently used his growing wealth as a tool for improving the lives of his fellow men.
So how could a person find fault with someone who is so obviously successful?
His single biggest mistake wasn’t how he used his money for philanthropy. It was the fact that John Weightman began seeking absolute commendation and recognition for his efforts. That’s a very human trait.
John Weightman prided himself on the reputation he had built for always making the right choices when it came to increasing his wealth and influence. He measured his accomplishments by how many building wings bore his name. He looked to his numerous awards and the newspaper articles about his donations as proof of the good he was doing.
Eventually, that personal pride became the driving force behind John Weightman’s charitable donations rather than a dynamic of unconditional love for his fellow man.
This distinction became clear when his son Walter Weightman asked his father for a sizable sum of money for the benefit of boyhood friend. Walter Weightman wished to send his friend to Arizona where the young man’s potentially terminal lung affliction might be slowed for a period of time.
John Weightman vigorously opposed his son’s request on the grounds that it was an unsound investment. He felt it would be unwise to give the money since Walter Weightman’s friend wasn’t guaranteed to recover and, even worse, the donation would bring no recognition to the family name.
As John Weightman broods over his son’s apparent lack of financial acumen, it’s easy to sympathize with his point of view. Why do a good deed if hardly anyone is aware of it?
The lesson that the author wishes to teach comes when Weightman unexpectedly finds himself in the next life. John Weightman finds himself walking along with others who have recently arrived and are traveling to their promised mansions above.
As each person arrives at his or her mansion, they are overwhelmed by the splendor and beauty of their new dwellings. John Weightman, meanwhile, excitedly anticipates that his reward will be even greater than the others because of his lifelong reputation as a philanthropist.
When his mansion turns out to be little more than a clumsy shack, it’s easy to identify with John Weightman’s sense of shock and disappointment. Only when the gatekeeper of the heavenly city explains that John Weightman had already received his reward of recognition for his many donations on earth does he begin to understand his mistake. John Weightman had done much good, but for the purpose of building a kingdom to his name, not for the purpose of building his fellow man.
When our hearts are set on the approval of others instead of the desire to help others regardless of recognition, our selfishness can become a roadblock. A person who is truly working to build up others doesn’t need fanfare and accolades to know that their efforts are worthwhile.
Those who spend their time trying to glorify themselves—often by tearing down those around them—seem to be the unhappiest people of all.
Martin Luther King Jr. summed it up like this:
Ten thousand fools proclaim themselves into obscurity, while one wise man forgets himself into immortality.
Acquiring the habit of questioning our own motives can teach us a lot about who we are and what we value most. Nearly always, it brings better results than simply questioning the motives of others.
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Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and co-host of the Perspectives talk show on Fox News 1450 AM 93.1 FM. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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