you & me

Reviving The Lost Arts Of Appreciation And Generosity.

Peter Cooper might not be a household name, but our lives would not be the same without him.

He lived during the heart of the industrial revolution, and was a renaissance man: an inventor, a businessman, a politician, and a philanthropist.

Much of his life was spent inventing and manufacturing a wide variety of useful things, from making hats to iron-forging to harnessing power from the tides. All appeared well.

However, he failed to succeed in one aspect of his life — politics. The invention that he is best known for is the Tom Thumb, a steam locomotive that was the predecessor to the more modern coal and diesel trains.

What many don’t know it that he also patented the first gelatin dessert which he sold to a cough syrup company that went on to become a household name. Have you ever heard of Jell-O brand gelatin? We owe our thanks to Cooper for that.

What I admire most about Cooper is not his business acumen or his creative mind, although I would love to have just a portion of both. No, his benevolent spirit raises him in my esteem. He did not hoard his vast funds.

As one of the wealthiest men in America, he always saw his wealth as a unique opportunity — an opportunity to give back.

His humble beginnings never left his heart, so he was genuinely grateful for everything he accumulated — physical and emotional alike. He is known for saying, “I have endeavored to remember that the object of life is to do good.”

He viewed wealth as a blessing, and he did not keep it for himself.

In 1859, Cooper started Cooper Union, an arts and science college that was completely tuition-free. It wasn’t until 2014 that they finally started charging, but only 50% of the cost.

The college, which was located in Manhattan, was founded on the principle that everyone deserves an education, regardless of financial means.

This was not just a charity school for the less fortunate.

It was a well-respected and awarded institution because Cooper Union gave rise to Nobel prize winners, Guggenheim Fellowship awardees, Chrysler Design Award recipients, and more.

To this day, it is one of the leading schools of art, architecture, and engineering.

Cooper believed in education, but, even more so, he believed in helping his fellow man. His charitable activities and generosity did not go unnoticed, and even sent ripples through the Wall Street aristocrats.

So many people including Cooper were profiting off of others during this time of affluence in America, but there was one major difference between the masses and Cooper. He chose to give back as well. People began to take notice.

Andrew Carnegie, Matthew Vassar, and Ezra Cornell credit their view of money as well as their philanthropy to Cooper’s influence on them.

Some of the great universities and libraries of the United States would not exist without the impact of Peter Cooper. What a great legacy to have! Rich people are admired for their wealth, but Cooper was respected for his generosity.

My hat goes off to men like him, Bill Gates, and Warren Buffett, who have used their profits to benefit those less fortunate. They are examples worth imitating.

Peter truly loved his neighbor as himself, so he lived well below his means so others could have the means to live well.

For years, my family lived on little. Since my wife and I were caring for four kids on a single income, as well as working for a non-profit organization, we learned to make the most of what we had.

All of our furniture and almost all of our children’s clothes were hand-me-downs. Some people have French-style homes or modern-style homes. We used to call our home style Early American Yard Sale.

Only in the last 10 years have my wife and I been able to enjoy the fruits of our labor, but, even in our poorest years, we always knew people who could use the hand-me-downs from the hand-me-downs.

We have always been grateful for the generosity of others, and my children have learned from it as well.

My youngest daughter has grown out her hair in order to donate it to children with cancer. My youngest son has volunteered with the local Future Farmers of America.

Age and finance are not limitations when it comes to helping others.

We are not on earth just to attain status or acquire wealth, but we are also here to appreciate what we have and assist others. We do not live to get richer only for ourselves, but to give what we can to others with gratitude.

Guess what? I have a shocking revelation for you. If everyone gave, then everyone would get. It’s a different perspective than most, but it is still one worth trying to achieve.

Our culture looks out for Number One, but where would Number One be without Number Two? We all need each other, and we need to remember that simple truth.

Appreciation is a lost art. Maybe we should bring back this ancient ritual.

Giving is really better than getting, and philanthropy is not just for the rich. There are many things we can do when we have little means that can help others who have even less. Generosity comes from the heart, not the pocketbook.

Some of the most generous people I know have minuscule funds to give. Money does not make a person generous; gratitude makes one generous because it is often born out of an appreciation for another’s assistance.

We have all been at a place of need at some point in our lives.

How can we give when our pocketbooks are thin or our calendar is filled with responsibilities? Are there ways we can show generosity when time and money are at a minimum? Well, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Volunteer once a month as a mentor.
  2. Give your recyclables to a homeless person.
  3. Donate books to a local library.
  4. Offer to mow the lawn of an elderly person.
  5. Throw your spare change in a jar, and when it fills up, buy a grocery store gift card and give it to a family in need.

The list is endless. It doesn’t take much creativity to come up with ways to bless others. The Red Cross always needs blood, and Goodwill always needs household items.

I’m sure there are communities near you that would love the wall of a downtown building painted with a colorful mural. Sing Christmas carols in a retirement home during the holidays. I offer these ideas as kindling for your creative fire.

What is it that you are good at that you can share with others?

Peter Cooper found that his passion was for inventing. He was blessed to be appreciated for that during his lifetime, so he accumulated a vast amount of money. He was able, so he gave. You only need to give from what you have.

Paying it forward is not a new concept. It dates back to ancient times, but the lesson has never been more relevant. We all have something to offer the world. There will always be someone who has less than us.

When we give, we remind the world that no one has given who has not received in some way from others, and we who have received should give back in kind and in gratitude for the generosity we have been shown.

Who knows? The person you help could invent something even better than Jell-O.

Source: Peter Cooper: A Tribute in Commemoration of the Hundredth Anniversary of His Birth


JimWernJim Wern is a renaissance man in a modern world; a spiritual traveler, searching for vestiges of the divine in humanity and imparting seeds of hope in a desolate world. He is a husband, father, friend, mentor, creative, tech geek, amateur writer, photographer and chef. His ramblings can be found at his website. He lives in sunny Southern California with his beautiful wife of 31 years.


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