What Will Matter

Published: March 20, 2015

By Jim Lichtman
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I’ve quoted my ethics teacher, Michael Josephson, in past commentaries. On March 19, 1995, I had just completed the Josephson Institute’s Ethics Corps – a four-day intensive training on ethics and ethical decision-making to be used by teachers and trainers. At the time, my purpose was to re-educate myself to those philosophical qualities I studied and connected with in college.

Working on my first book, The Lone Ranger’s Code of the West, I wanted a stronger background on ethics, and the ability to translate a sometimes difficult subject into something that was more approachable and clear by way of a series of Lone Ranger adventure stories. After interviewing Fran Striker, Jr., son of the creator, I learned that the character already possessed a background in ethical thought and action based on the purpose of the show: to entertain kids as well as teach them about right and wrong. The Josephson training codified the Ranger’s qualities.

One of the things I appreciated about Michael was his ability to step back from the ethical brush-fire of the moment and encourage us to look at the long view. Yes, we would discuss specific scenarios, and how to work the three-step decision-making model, but it was more than that. Michael asked us to examine the bigger picture, to see not just who we were, but who we wanted to be, and more importantly, how we could achieve that.

Michael’s What Will Matter from 2003, is an ode to that bigger picture. Take a close look at the title. It’s not a question; it’s a declaration.

Ready or not, some day it will all come to an end.
There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours or days.
All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten,
will pass to someone else.
Your wealth, fame and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.

It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.
Your grudges, resentments, frustrations and jealousies will finally disappear.
So too, your hopes, ambitions, plans and to-do lists will expire.
The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.
It won’t matter where you came from,
or what side of the tracks you lived on at the end.
It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant.
Even your gender and skin color will be irrelevant.

So what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured?

What will matter is not what you bought but what you built,
not what you got but what you gave.
What will matter is not your success but your significance.
What will matter is not what you learned but what you taught.
What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion,
courage or sacrifice that enriched, empowered
or encouraged others to emulate your example.

What will matter is not your competence but your character.
What will matter is not how many people you knew,
but how many will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone.
What will matter is not your memories
but the memories of those who loved you.
What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom and for what.

Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident.
It’s not a matter of circumstance but of choice.
Choose to live a life that matters.


  1. Beautifully said, absolutely correct. Now….let’s start to do it every day.

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