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Roots and Fruits of Philanthropy

     You will see a golden Prometheus in front of Rockefeller Center in New York City for a reason.  

     Etymologically, 'philanthropy' means the love of humanity'.  This not only refers to the love we might feel for other humans; it also refers to the quality of love that makes us human.

     We demonstrate philanthropy through a voluntary form of self-sacrifice that conveys a practical benevolence toward others.

     Babylonian epic verses (Gilgamesh, c. 2000 BC) celebrate the generosity and self-sacrifice of kings as vital steps towards civilization.  This brings into focus the ultimate fruit of philanthropy: the civilizing of the human race. 

     The aim of civilization is to transform isolated people into a collective in cooperation in order to sustain and to improve everyone's quality of life.

     Egyptian sacred writings, The Book of the Dead (c.1800 BC), demonstrate the early belief that successful passage into the afterlife depends on a lifetime record of benevolent acts towards the less fortunate.

     Egyptian deities expected any person seeking immortality to swear that he had never denied food to the hungry, drink to the parched or clothing to the ragged.  So here we see philanthropy sustaining and improving the quality of one's afterlife.

     Later, in ancient Greek mythology, the philanthropic spirit begins with Prometheus, a Titan, whose name means Forethought. 

      Prometheus foresaw the destruction of the human race. Out of his philanthropos tropos' or humanity-loving character', he gave humanity two gifts (that "he stole from the gods") that would help sustain us: fire and hope.  These two gifts work synergistically: with fire, humans could be hopeful; with hope, humans can use fire constructively. 

      One could argue that fire and hope are the two causes of all of the cultural advancements that human civilization has produced.  For instance, without the fire of electricity and the optimism (hope) of inventors, there would have been no light bulbs, not to mention no Internet. 

     What Prometheus evidently loved (in his forethought) was the potential for human beings to use the advantages of his generous giving - fire and hope - for the sustainability and advancement of humanity. 

     When we demonstrate philanthropy we carry on the work or pass the torch of Prometheus.  We lift up the individual receiver with advantage and hope, and we lift up humanity as a whole through that individual's increased capacity to contribute to the sustainability and advancement of civilization. 

     When the receiver of philanthropy demonstrates philanthropy in return, he or she passes on the torch of Prometheus still farther, sustaining and advancing the light of civilization and its benefits to humankind.

Philanthropy can be understood as a central root and fruit of civilization.

     The Platonic Academy of the 15th century defined Philanthropia as, a state of well-educated habits, stemming from love of humanity, productive of benefit to human beings.' 

     We can understand civilization, then, to mean the human effort to transmute our self-centered into a determination to uplift the whole of humanity, based on the understanding of the interconnectedness of us all.  As we help one advance, we help all advance, and civilization is sustained.

     Civilization is a transpersonal act, a transcendent act, that unifies humankind into an interdependent network resulting in the protection, preservation and benefit of all.

     In the absence of philanthropy, civilization collapses. The individual remains solely focused on personal advantage and selfish self-satisfaction.  This self-serving focus totally deprives the individual of the benefit of others' cooperation and contribution, resulting in a stagnant, primitive, brutish, limited existence. 

     Civilization makes teamwork and time binding (the human ability to build upon information and knowledge passed from one generation to the next) possible. Its absence sorely limits human adaptability and the fulfillment of the human potential and negates the possibility for cultural advancement.   

     By giving what we have to provide hope, sustenance, and betterment to others, we sustain civilization and contribute to its ongoing progress. 

     Philanthropy is essentially what lifts the human race above the animal level, propels cultural advancement and higher human development and provides critical support to our sustainability as a species. 


Philanthropy can be described as the quintessentially human survival instinct.

     In the absence of civilization the world becomes a battle ground with no rules of fairness.  Then violence rules and chaos reigns. No one is safe.

     When we practice philanthropy, then, the basic result is two-fold:

1 We civilize ourselves.

2 We support the survival and the advancement of civilization; ie: of the human race.

     When Prometheus demonstrated philanthropy he displayed the Greek archetype of the heroic spirit: self-sacrifice for the survival and the good of others. 

     He thus exhibited belief in the integral unity or oneness of the human race. The spirit of philanthropy arises from this belief, and so, by definition, the philanthropist can be seen as the quintessential hero. 

     May the spirit of oneness continue to promote philanthropy and make true heroes of us all.

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Bob Lancer Seminars and Consulting helps wealthy families and individuals identify their values,  live their values and pass their values on to subsequent generations.

Call 770-364-9580 or email for more information.

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