The True Meaning of Philanthropy and Why it is Important to Our Happiness
Today when we hear the word “philanthropy,” we usually visualize large amounts of money given by wealthy people. But the origins of philanthropy are not rooted in the gift of money or the generosity of the wealthy. Philanthropy derives its name from the Greek story of Prometheus, a Titan who defied the Greek God Zeus. Because of his dissatisfaction with the imperfection of mortals, Zeus withheld fire from them in order to destroy them through lack of heat, light and a flame to cook food and make tools for their survival.
Prometheus loved the mortals and so stole fire from Zeus and shared it with the mortals so that they could not only survive but thrive. He gave back to them the resources to keep warm, eat, and create tools to help them create a better life. Zeus was furious and called him a “philantropos tropos,” which meant a person who loved humans. Coming from the Greek gods this was derogatory term because they despised the weak and feeble mortals. By Sharing Fire with the mortals, Prometheus committed an act of “philanthropia,” which is what we now call philanthropy. So at its very origins, philanthropy was never about the act of giving money. It was the loving act of giving people tools to help them create a better life.
Like the mortals of that Greek story who were in great need of physical fire, all of us today are in great need of a different kind of fire, the fire of appreciation and encouragement. Emerson wrote in his essay “Circles” that each of us never feels fully understood or appreciated for who we are and that “every man believes that he has a greater possibility.” One of the founders of psychology, the great William James, once stated that “the deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.”
This combination of our profound belief that we have the potential to be more than what we are and our deepest craving for appreciation is the reason that personal empowerment philanthropy is so powerful. Joseph Campbell speaks of our deep human need to leave a legacy in “The Power of Myth.” He states that an essential component of the hero’s journey is an act of philanthropy: “When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.”
The fact is that all of us have been positively and profoundly influenced by at least one, and perhaps several, people in our lives. These are the people who went above and beyond the role of being our friend, teacher, family member, boss, coworker, colleague, etc. They became our cheerleader, our advisor and our strength in tough times. These are the people who saw our potential, even when we did not. In fact, they believed in us more than we believed in ourselves. We can point to them and say “if not for them and their tremendous guidance, I would not be the person i am today and my life would be much less fulfilling.” They created what we would call an act of “Personal Empowerment Philanthropy,” (P.E.P.). When they were around us, we truly felt we had more energy and could accomplish great things. This was a “gift” of good, meaning that it was given with the highest intention and with no thought of reciprocation. It was given because these mentors had a passion to share their fire with others and re-gift the good they were given by those who helped them.
(Chapter 1 – Part 2 to be continued next week. Share this with your friends if you think it can be of value to them and ask them to like Sharing Fire on Facebook so they get the entire book!)