The word philanthropy is used more and more these days, but I’m not sure people really know what it means.
Most of us have thought of philanthropists as a privileged few – those of great wealth who put their fortunes into foundations to benefit future generations. We think of the Mellons, the Carnegies, the Penroses and others, and are grateful for the incredible good they have provided for our communities and country.
But today, being a philanthropist means much more. Philanthropy is a Greek word that means “love of fellow man.” In this context, nearly everyone is or can be a philanthropist and one doesn’t have to have great wealth to be one.
The person who puts his change in the Salvation Army box at the grocery store is a philanthropist. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela were philanthropists. Philanthropy is all about helping to make the world a better place.
Wealth is another word that is often misunderstood. Wealth does not make one rich. And all rich people are not wealthy. Wealth is more about how you live your life – giving and caring for others as you follow your passions and pursue your dreams. We all know many people who have little money but are wealthy in spirit.
Having money or knowledge does not make one wise. To quote from a sermon by Dr. Jim Chapman of the Broadmoor Community Church, “Our culture, especially middle-class American culture, puts a big emphasis on success and knowledge, and not too much emphasis on the art of living.
“Our world has gained so much knowledge in the past century. We have more information and technology than we know what to do with. But wisdom, wisdom is different. Wisdom is something that seems more illusive and difficult for us. And besides, wisdom is not in great demand these days. Wisdom understands that truth is seldom easy, that there are many sides to an issue, nuances and subtleties. The wise person says, ‘I could be wrong.’ Such humility is rare these days.”
I believe that the best philanthropists today are those who may or may not have wealth but who exhibit wisdom, a true love of their fellow man and are willing to step out of their comfort zone to act as a catalyst for positive change in our society.
In other words, a philanthropist is a true leader. We have many leaders in the various parts of our community but we suffer from lack of leadership in the governmental and political worlds.
Put this in the context of our own city. All too often our elected officials and their paid staff use lack of funds as an excuse for not being able to do the many things that are needed for a vital city.
But it’s not about money. It’s about taking the time to lead – to convene meetings, to bring diverse groups to the table and getting them to collaborate to solve problems and create the energy needed to build a strong community where people can succeed. The private sector has a big role to play in this and it is working hard to do so. But it can’t do it alone.
As we approach the upcoming city elections in April, we should encourage local and neighborhood leaders to run for office and we should ask all the candidates how they will help create positive changes for our city.
When we are all philanthropists, Colorado Springs will be an even greater place to live.