Benjamin Franklin’s Priceless Penny

The front of the Fugio Cent, "Mind Your Business."

The front of the Fugio Cent, “Mind Your Business.”

A penny isn’t worth much these days. In fact, if you find one on the street, it’s hardly worth the energy of bending over to pick it up. But I recently stumbled across an old, American penny whose message and meaning is probably worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox.

In April of 1787, the Continental Congress approved the design of a new “United States” cent. This design—rich with symbolism—was created by none other than Benjamin Franklin.

The value of these cents was not from any monetary value that the Continental Congress placed upon them. No, the value of these cents was came from the sense of value that they gave to a fledgling America.

The design was both practical and profound. The front features a sun and a sundial with the words “Fugio” (a Latin phrase meaning, “I fly”) and “Mind Your Business.” It was a pictorial representation of the idea that time flies—so get to work!

While the design on the front features practical business advice, it is the design on the back that I find most meaningful. The back of the penny features an image of thirteen chain links in a circle, representing the original thirteen colonies. In the center of these links is the motto “We Are One.”

Back of Fugio Cent "We Are One."

Back of Fugio Cent “We Are One.”

Now, you might not think thats anything significant, but when understood in its context, this simple image carries profound wisdom for the ages.

In 1787, the thirteen original colonies had just emerged, battered and bruised, from a bloody war of independence. Despite their victory, the governments of each of the colonies were young and unstable and their economies were near collapse. The Continental Congress could hardly agree on anything. Meanwhile, England appeared to be biding its time—waiting for the moment when America’s adolescent experiment with independence would fail.

Given these conditions, it looked as though America’s revolutionary victory would, at any moment, be counted worthless and tossed aside in favor of its former dependency on England.

But within two years, something remarkable happened—something that changed everything—the colonies united once again. America embraced the message of the Constitution: “We the people…in order to form a more perfect union” are one,and after George Washington’s two terms as President (eight years), America’s previous problems essentially evaporated.

The common sense of Ben Franklin’s copper cents is simple, profound, yet incredibly difficult to live: when “We Are One”— when we are united—we prosper.

Statue of Ben Franklin

Statue of Ben Franklin

But what does that mean for us?  Are we as divided as America was then? Perhaps not to the same degree, but in times like these we must remember Mark Twain’s sage advice, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.”

We live in a time of perpetual war, civil unrest, and economic uncertainty. Solutions and prosperity will not be found in pinching pennies but by embracing the common sense on a copper cent: “We Are One.”

But how do we become one?  Well, the answer to that question is found on the other side of Ben Franklin’s penny: “Mind Your Business.” Does that sentiment mean to work harder or start your own business? Given Franklin’s propensity to create aphorisms, I think there’s a much deeper meaning involved.

This ‘deeper meaning’ is probably best described through an exchange in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Fearing for his own welfare, Scrooge tells the the ghost of Jacob Marley that he (Marley) “was always a good man of business,” the implication being that Scrooge’s equal successes in business would compensate for his lack of humanity. To this, his business partner replied:

“Business!” cried the Ghost, wringing its hands again.  “Mankind was my business.  The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business.  The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”

The business we should mind, as a nation, should be the common welfare of all our citizens. The American experiment requires a unity that pervades every part of society: black, white, religious, non-religious, straight, gay, Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, Tea Partier, Occupier, the 1% and the 99%. I’m not suggesting that we have government-led initiatives aimed at helping these various groups of people. I’m suggesting that WE lead initiatives to help our fellow men. Because mankind is our business.

Just imagine what could happen if our nation lived as one, if we saw our happiness and prosperity inseparably linked together—as represented by the links on Ben Franklin’s copper cent. What if instead of judging the value of the citizens we meet as cents on the street, we see them as unique, and wonderful individuals that are worth more than all the gold in Fort Knox?

Imagine what could happen if we re-embraced one of Benjamin Franklin’s last contributions to our country, living the motto “We Are One.”

The deepest value of Ben Franklin’s copper cents—a people united—is of inestimable worth.

The grave of Benjamin Franklin—covered in pennies.

The grave of Benjamin Franklin—covered in pennies.

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I Don’t Subscribe To Fear

In the wake of recent headlines (and the strong reactions to them), it’s hard not to get discouraged about the world.

Violent entertainment, gangs, pollution, pornography, rampant drug abuse, never-ending wars, and political and civil unrest are but a small sampling of just how ugly things are. To be completely honest, I’ve often wondered if it’s morally responsible to bring children into such a dark world.

"People Frightened by Tide," by Auguste Delacroix

“People Frightened by Tide,” by Auguste Delacroix

But whenever I feel overwhelmed by my fears, I remember a bit of advice that my dad told me. It was in the fall of 2008, and the U.S. economy had just taken a nose-dive. Although I didn’t quite understand what was going on, two words were very clear: Economic Recession. On nearly every television station, reporters and politicians bemoaned the state of the economy and made gloomy, dire, and almost apocalyptic predictions. By all accounts, it sounded like America was on the brink of collapse.

I turned to my dad and asked him what he thought about it. He continued to stare at the screen and quietly shook his head.

“It looks like a lot of people are afraid. But you know what, Seth? I don’t subscribe to fear. And why should I? Fear rarely produces a positive result. All we can do is do our best to understand our situation and move forward with faith.

And you know what? He was right. Fear is destructive and defeating, but faith is constructive and creative. Fear finds an excuse while faith finds a way.

I wish I could tell you that my dad’s advice will give you endless prosperity and good fortune—but that would be a lie. In the years since the beginning of the economic recession, my family has had its share of problems—most of us lost our original jobs and were forced to find new ones. We’ve had car trouble, money trouble, house trouble, and serious medical troubles.

But you know what? In our times of trouble, we don’t subscribe to fear—we subscribe to faith. Instead of fearing the unknown, we’ve looked ahead to the possibilities. Instead of giving attention to the things that feed our doubts and fears, we give attention to the things that feed our faith and our hope. Living in a world full of fear, maintaining faith hasn’t been easy. But in that struggle for faith, we’ve been able to learn amazing lessons, and we’ve grown closer together as a family.

And part of me thinks that’s the way it was meant to be. If we are determined to move forward with faith, then opposition and resistance are the forces that will make us stronger. Yes, the world has is filled with terrible, dreadful things—but it’s also filled with wonderful, inspiring things. You are free to choose your subscription: will you subscribe to fear, or will you subscribe to faith?

Successful Failures

Some time ago, I had the chance to interview, Lindsay Hadley, a personal friend, and a rockstar in the non-profit world. In the interview, Lindsay shared with me some of her insights on how to find success in “failures.”

Lindsay Hadley

Lindsay Hadley

I met Lindsay Hadley in 2011 and was immediately impressed by her drive and humble confidence. She has spent her life in the service of others and the ripple effect has been astounding.

For example, In September 2012, Lindsay served as the Executive Producer of the Global Citizen Festival. With an audience of 60,000 on the Great Lawn of Central Park, New York, and a worldwide media and broadcast reach of over 2 billion people, Lindsay helped raise $1.3 billion in new funding for the world’s poorest communities.

As successful as the Global Citizen Festival was, Lindsay’s first fund-raising concert (just a few years prior) was not a financial success. Coming home from the event, Lindsay wondered, “Maybe I shouldn’t be doing this. Maybe I don’t have a right to be doing this…clearly I wasn’t enough.”

But in that moment of self-deprecation and doubt, Lindsay realized that the work she was doing was not about her, it was about the people she was trying to help. She then endeavored to change how she measured the success of her event. “Because when it wasn’t about me, there was more truth in the way I could look at it. And I could see all the great things—like the hundreds of volunteers that got involved, the incredible amounts of media that we garnished, the awareness that was generated that we couldn’t even truly measure” (for example, this video and article are an example of something that she never would have been able to measure or foresee).

Lindsay went on to say this beautiful quote about our “failures:”

“Your failures can be a part of your ultimate process of success if you but allow it to be…you can never fully see the good that you do—the impact that you make in the immediate—and you shouldn’t try to measure things that way. When you’re doing the right things out of love…then it will ultimately be a success in the end. I just believe that so much.”

The Eyes Are Useless When The Mind Is Blind

Not long ago, I shared this quote on my Facebook fanpage: “The eyes are useless when the mind is blind.” My friend Nate, an incredibly brilliant medical researcher, wrote this comment:

“The human eye only sees a very small amount of light in the Light/EMR spectrum. Much, much less than even 1%. These include Gamma rays, X-Rays, Ultraviolet, Infrared, Microwaves, Radio waves. So from a scientific view, we are very blind to the world around us. It’s like seeing through a very, very small slit.

So, that being said, just imagine all of the blessings we have each day, that go completely unseen because we only can see much less than 1%.”

First, I didn’t even know that the human eye only sees “much less than even 1%” of all of available visual data. Second, I wasn’t even thinking about blessings when I posted that quote! I was thinking about biases, bigotry, or judging people without knowing them. Blessings! Wow…that’s really cool. Isn’t it amazing that my friend helped me see the blessings to which I had been blind?

eyes

A few years ago, I was working with my friend Ronnie, at a wilderness therapy program in Arizona. We were hiking with a group of teenagers when we came across something absolutely stunning: ruins—a massive area filled with Native American ruins. And it wasn’t even on the map! Ronnie and I were so excited that we dropped our packs and ran back and forth, scouring the landscape, taking in all of the amazing history (while being careful not to touch anything, of course). For all we knew, we were the first visitors to those ruins in centuries! There were stone walls, foundations, pottery shards, and lots of other incredible things! We were archaeologists! I was finally Indiana Jones!

Imagine our surprise when we realized that the kids we were hiking with didn’t share our enthusiasm. Instead of reveling in this glorious moment—which was clearly the gateway to some marvelous, treasure hunt (with Sean Bean as the title villain, no doubt)—these kids were sitting around chatting about pop music. POP MUSIC!!

How on earth could you possibly talk about pop music at a time like this?!

I turned to Ronnie and vented my frustration. “Dude, how is this possible? They’re sitting in the middle of a historic wonder, and they don’t even see it.”

I then waxed philosophical. I do that sometimes.

“I wonder how often we do that in life. How many times are we sitting in middle of the most miraculous things, but we don’t even notice because we’re too caught up in the trivial things of the world?”

Ronnie nodded, and then said something that blew me away. “Yeah, like when we’re sitting in church and not paying attention to what the sermon is about.”

Whoa.

I have come to realize that we are always sitting in the middle of a sermon. God has created a most miraculous world, and is constantly using it to preach to us. Let us not be blind (or deaf) to His sermons.

Let us choose to see the miracles which surround us.

Four Paintings That Teach Powerful Lessons About Life

In 1842, American artist Thomas Cole created a series of allegorical paintings entitled: The Voyage of Life. These symbolic images are, without a doubt, my favorite paintings—for they have taught me some of the most valuable lessons about life.

But before I get into that, please watch the video below. It gives an excellent overview of the four paintings.

The first painting, Childhood, represents the warmth and innocence of our early years. Emerging from a mysterious cave is a boat, guided by an angel. Sitting in the boat is an infant, overjoyed to begin his voyage through life. At first glance, it would appear as though this infant’s life is to be nothing but smooth sailing in paradise.

The second painting, Youth, represents the romantic and naive ambition of our adolescence. Imagining himself an expert, the young man takes control of the tiller and sails forward, eager to chase his dreams (depicted as a castle in the clouds). His pose suggests confidence in his ability to secure everything he wants out of life. But life has a different plan for him…

"The Voyage of Life: Manhood," by Thomas Cole

“The Voyage of Life: Manhood,” by Thomas Cole

The third painting, Manhood, represents the harsh and painful realities of growing up. The young man, now an adult, has lost control and is shown praying to God as his boat rushes towards dangerous rocks, and ominous, white rapids. Hovering above him in the clouds are three demonic forms. Thomas Cole stated that these figures “are Suicide, Intemperance and Murder, which are the temptations that beset men in their direst trouble.”

The last painting, Old Age, represents death. Having survived the pains and trials of life, the aged voyager has reached the end of his journey. Met by his guardian angel, the old man is once again overjoyed (as in the first painting, Childhood). The angels in the distance symbolize his embraced into eternity.

Perhaps it’s because of where I am in life right now, but I’ve been thinking a lot about these paintings. I’ve come to realize that I’ve had a lot of romantic, unrealistic ideas about life. Life is beautiful and amazing, to be sure, but it’s filled with heartache and struggle. Indeed, life is filled with a great deal of suffering—and that suffering often makes me wonder about the goodness of God.

“God loves you,” is a popular slogan for many religions. But in times of trouble, I often find that statement to be particularly irksome. Yeah, well if God loves us so much, why does He allow so much suffering? If God loves us, why does He never seem to be there when the voyage of life gets dark and terrifying?

And herein is lies the most important lesson from Thomas Cole’s paintings: God is with us in our darkest moments.

The Guardian Angel, the Voyager, and the Three Demons

The Guardian Angel, the Voyager, and the Three Demons

In the corner of the third painting, you can easily see that the man is being watched by his guardian angel. However, if you look closely at the man you’ll notice that his back is to the angel—naturally, his gaze is fixed on the troubles before him, not on the guidance above him.

I find that illustration both telling and comforting. So often, we’re tempted to think that we are alone in our struggles—that the heavens are closed to our problems and pains. And yet, when we reach the end of our voyage (or the end of our particular struggle), we can look back and see the guidance of God in our lives.

As Thomas Cole said of his third painting: “The upward and imploring look of the Voyager shows his dependence on a Superior Power; and that faith saves him from the destruction that seems inevitable.” If you feel like you’re losing control of your life, then do as these paintings suggest: pray for unseen guidance, keep the faith, and keep moving forward. The reward at the end of the of the journey stretches on for eternity.

Source for Thomas Cole’s writings: Explore Thomas Cole

The Sistas in Zion | Hilarity Never Faileth

Last year, I had the chance to sit down and interview Tamu Smith and Zandra Vranes, creators of the website Sistas in Zion, and authors of the book Diary of Two Mad Black Mormons.

In this five minute video, the Sistas share their beliefs, talk about what kind of music Elder Holland listens to, and why they would “dress up for Jesus.” I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much during an interview (listen closely and you can actually hear me a couple of times). Seriously, my sides were hurting!

An AMAZING Story of Adoption

Enough said.

For a number of reasons, adoption has become a very personal, and very tender issue for me.

In 2012, I interviewed my friend Tamra Dawn Hyde—a birth mother and a strong advocate of adoption. During the interview, she shared her amazing and beautiful story of adoption. Since publishing the video, it has received over 30,000 views around the world and has helped others who are working through the adoption process.

Please watch the video below and share it with others.

Addiction and a Modern-day Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son (Biblical/Modern) painted by Liz Lemon Swindle

The Prodigal Son (Biblical/Modern) painted by Liz Lemon Swindle

I want you to meet a friend of mine. His name is Cam Roberts—he’s a modern-day prodigal son and his story will change your life.

A former drug addict with a crippling, twelve-year addiction to meth, Cam has come a long way down the road of recovery. In fact, his recovery story—and the unconditional love demonstrated by his parents—is so powerful, that it was painted by Liz Lemon Swindle, a famous artist.

Below is a beautiful, twenty-minute video detailing Cam’s descent into addiction and how he was able to fight his way out.

“I think what saved me,” says Cam “[is that] my parents loved me unconditionally. They never gave up on me.” In the video (and in other interviews I’ve had with him), Cam compares the unconditional love of his parents to the love that God has for each of us—a love that has the power to lift us out of our darkest struggles.

Please take twenty minutes to watch this incredible video of Cam’s story. You won’t regret it.

10 Books That Will Change Your Life For The Better

Stack of Books

A massive pile of books.

If you want to change your body you change what you eat and how you exercise. If you want to change your outlook on life you change what you read and put it into practice.

Listed below are ten inspiring and positive books. Unless you are determined to be miserable (which, strangely enough, some people are) these books will change your life for the better. Click on the titles to order a copy for yourself, then mark them up and put them into practice.

  1. As A Man Thinketh by James Allen – Although you could probably finish this little booklet in less than an hour or two, its words are powerful and profound. Words like these: “A man’s mind may be likened to a garden, which may be intelligently cultivated or allowed to run wild; but whether cultivated or neglected, it must, and will, bring forth. If no useful seeds are put into it, then an abundance of useless weed seeds will fall therein, and will continue to produce their kind.”
  2. The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – This is a fantastic, beautiful narrative about finding out who we are and fearlessly chasing our own “personal legend.” In this book, Coelho says: “There is only one thing that makes a dream impossible to achieve: the fear of failure.”
  3. The Road Less Traveled by M. Scott Peck – Where do I start? This book is honestly one of my absolute favorite books of all time. It is packed with incredible insight and solutions for confronting and solving some of life’s greatest problems. For example, consider this: “Problems call forth our courage and our wisdom; indeed, they create our courage and wisdom.”
  4. The Shack by William P. Young – After his youngest daughter is murdered by a serial killer, Mackenzie Allen Phillips receives a mysterious note—apparently from God—telling him to return to “the shack,” the scene of the crime. What happens next is a spiritual journey of love and forgiveness that forever changes his life. From the book: “[...] love is much stronger than your fault could ever be.”
  5. The Secret by Rhonda Byrne – In this bestselling book, various individuals share their insight and experience with “The Secret” (the law of attraction). While this book can get a little mystical, it does a really good job at explaining how our mental outlook can affect all areas of our lives (for you business types, I would also recommend Think And Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill).
  6. The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis – If you’d like to read some more inspirational fiction, check out these classics by C. S. Lewis. Not only are they entertaining, but they’re also filled with timeless wisdom about addiction, sin, guilt, and the nature of man. Plus, the seventh book is quite possibly one of the most beautiful fiction books I’ve ever read. “Now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
  7. How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie – I’m a fairly introverted person, so I’m not exactly going out of my way to meet new people. But this book provides some great, practical advice on working with and helping people. I’m a big believer finding happiness  From the book: “You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.”
  8. The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis – In this allegorical story, a busload of sinners leave the depths of hell to see what heaven might be like. When they get there, they are told that they can stay in heaven if they can give up the sins that are holding them back. Through an array of characters struggling with different vices, C. S. Lewis masterfully illustrates that, more often than not, we are the very things that are holding ourselves back.
  9. The Seven Paths by the Anasazi Foundation – This poetic, evocative story presents the meditations of an ancient Anasazi tribesman who learns that the point of life’s walk is how one is moved in the heart. He walks seven paths, each teaching a lesson symbolized by an element of the natural world: light, wind, water, stone, plants, animals, and, finally, the unity of all beings with the Creator.
  10. Sacred Writings – I don’t know if you’re a religious person or not, so this one is entirely up to you. But I believe that many religions contain incredible, invaluable, time-tested truths—and we would be foolish to simply ignore them. At the very least, there’s something to be said of getting in touch with your religious/cultural roots.

If you like any of these books, please be sure to check out my upcoming book “Your Life Isn’t For You.” In that book, I draw upon inspirational stories from history and literature to help illustrate my deep conviction that the only way you can truly find and live your life is to give it away to others.