Three Dynamite Ideas for the Holidays
It is probably the most coveted award in the world, especially in the fields of science and economics. Yes, you guessed it, the Nobel Prize, whose laureates include Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Ernest Hemingway and Martin Luther King. The most interesting thing about this famous recognition is why Alfred Nobel left most of his sizeable fortune to establish the now famous foundation that bears his name.
A brilliant chemist, inventor and businessman, Nobel was awarded more than 330 patents in his career. His most renowned achievement was developing a commercial application for the highly volatile yet powerful explosive nitroglycerin in the form of dynamite. He was only 34 when he received the patent, which would bring him fame, fortune and infamy.
When his brother Ludwig died in 1888, a French newspaper thought it was the eminent inventor/industrialist and published his obituary. The headline was memorable: “Le marchand de la mort est mort” — “The Merchant of Death is Dead.” It declared that Nobel “became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before.” Like many in the media today, the fact that his invention was transformative, making projects like America’s transcontinental railroad possible, was not highlighted by the obit writer.
Nobel, however, was shocked by what he read. The idea that this is what would be etched on the edifice of history about his life and achievements was unacceptable.
Like the metamorphosis Ebenezer Scrooge experienced as a result of his specter-guided journey into the past, present and future, Nobel decided to create a different story. His success at reinventing himself in the form of prizes for individuals whose work benefits mankind was far more pronounced than most think even he imagined.
Here are three dynamite lessons to live by year-round:
1. The only reason people remember what Alfred Nobel made was because of what he gave.
Had he not established his prize, who would remember the inventor of dynamite? Do you remember who invented the steamboat (Hint: It wasn’t Fulton) or who invented the automobile (Hint: His daughter’s name was Mercedes)?
Do not get us wrong: the idea of pursuing a business idea, for the same reason someone climbs a mountain — because it is there — is reason enough. But when we give our time, abilities and resources, they have a compounding effect. You benefit as the giver, someone else benefits as the receiver and still others benefit by being inspired to give themselves.
Giving is the most accessible commodity in existence. The gift of acceptance or even a smile can change a life, perhaps even our own. As Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”
2. You can write your own obituary.
Our word for the obituary delivered at a funeral is known as a eulogy. This is taken directly from the Greek words eu (meaning “good”) and logos (meaning “words”) or “good words,” and is usually translated as “blessing.” The essence of a life worthy of a eulogy is not based on how blessed we are, it is based on how we choose to bless others. Especially those people who, because of familiarity or the pace of our life, can become invisible to us. It is like Kevin Costner’s character in Field of Dreams. He thought he was building the magical baseball field for the legendary Shoeless Joe Jackson, only to discover he was building it to reconnect and ease the pain of his own father.
3. The Hidden Secret:
Here is the most important principle about the mindset of giving: It is great to leave a legacy to commemorate your life. But everyone believes they will be philanthropic or become that person worth of a eulogy once they reach their aspirational goals. But like John Lennon said, “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”
If your plan is to be the person you admire one day, that day may never happen. Even if you reach that place where you can lavishly give back, it will simply be something you do, instead of something you actually are. What we are is what we do every day with what we have. We do not make bargains with ourselves, signing mental letters of intent as a way of delaying our good intentions until tomorrow.
The most significant gift we can give is to simply love our neighbor as ourselves. As Amy Carmichael said, “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.”