It was no surprise that Time magazine selected Donald Trump as 2016 person of the year.
The magazine’s annual pick recognizes someone who has most influenced events, for better or for worse, and like it or not, Trump’s influence was extraordinary.
With the exception of a select few, we won’t see ourselves gracing the cover of Time. We won’t be garnering person of the year honours. We do, however, leave a legacy. We touch the lives of others. We exert influence on someone, somewhere at sometime.
“All the world’s a stage,” wrote Shakespeare. “And all the men and women merely players/ They have their exits and entrances/ And one man in his time plays many parts.” While Shakespeare was reflecting on the stages of life from infancy to old age, the manner in which we play our parts over time will determine our legacy.
For better or for worse
Time editor Nancy Gibbs has said that occasionally Time chooses someone who is “unassailably worthy. Normally that is not the case.” Since the inception of person of the year in 1927, the selections are a mixed bag of the illustrious and the infamous. The recipients represent the broad spectrum of human traits from the laudable to the deplorable. For better or for worse, all have left their mark on human society, as you can see from my arbitrary list.
Some more recent recipients include: Amazon.com founder Jeff Bezos (1999), Bill and Melinda Gates and Bono (2005), Putin (2007), and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (2010). Looking back further in history the following caught my attention: Charles Lindbergh (1927), Walter Chrysler (1928), Mahatma Gandhi (1930), Wallis Simpson (1936), Adolf Hitler (1938), Josef Stalin (1939, 1942), Queen Elizabeth (1952) and Richard Nixon (1971). (Every sitting United States president has been named person of the year.) Three Roman Catholic popes got the nod: Pope John XXIII (1962), Pope John Paul II (1994), and Pope Francis (2013).
The reader can decide if any of my arbitrary examples deserve to be called unassailably worthy. Even Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, whom Pope Francis elevated to sainthood in 2014, were flawed individuals, and had their detractors.
We might reasonably conclude that saints led impeccable lives during their time on earth. We would be mistaken for saints, as Francis said, were “not born perfect”. They just tried harder than the rest of us to live holy lives, to be unassailably worthy in the sight of God.
You leave a legacy
In 2006, “You” were the person of the year. That year the cover featured a blank computer screen made of reflective material. Readers could look at their reflection in the screen and envision themselves as person of the year.
The 2006 choice linked the shaping of human destiny to the actions of ordinary people engaging with the World Wide Web. You and me, the choice proclaimed, were changing the world through online collaboration and community building.
Social media has exploded since 2006. It has a profound influence on attitudes and behaviour. It can magnify the best and the worst of our shared human traits, and influence our actions in a heartbeat. Social media provides us with a platform for influencing others, for better or for worse, within our immediate circle and beyond. We can blog, tweet, post, comment, criticize, laud, organize and spew “alternative facts” (aka lies) to our hearts’ content in an environment that frequently lacks accountability.
The 2006 choice for person of the year was both controversial and gimmicky. It was a clever marketing ploy that reverberated in people’s imaginations for years. As recently as a few years ago, people were still listing themselves as 2006 person of the year on their twitter bios.
Yet, there is a distinctly serious and personal aspect to “You” person of the year. All of us are called to unassailable worthiness. We are called to be saints, to live our life as blessing to others and for the world.
I am reminded of the Carole King song, “Legacy”, which challenges us to be a driving force for the good. The song asks of us, “Don’t you want to leave a better world than you find?”
We may not get the nod from Time magazine. But, each of us leaves a legacy. Regardless the size of the stage – international or intimate – we play a part in the unfolding of human society – for better or for worse.
“It’s your legacy. Baby whatcha gonna do about it?” How will we answer King's question?