October 29, 2017

A Legacy of Service: the #1 Goal in Life

“For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.” Hebrews 6:10 (KJV)

Thanks to my wonderful readers, especially those who have been supporting me for a long time!

In the short term, nice people finish last. Fair? No. That’s life? Yes.

Sort of. Sometimes. Temporarily.

Luckily, nurturing relationships also thrive, and they have longevity. Please see my last article about how some individuals are lucky enough to learn that kindness brings long-term rewards.

Powerhouse People

Generally speaking, a person can make more enemies than friends on the way to the top of any industry. It’s a cutthroat world out there. If a person isn’t willing to play hardball, they aren’t going to make it to the big leagues. That translates to being willing to push the “little guys” around, or step on them.

The Pendulum Swings the Other Way

Life also has a way of leveling the playing field.  History records that the most prominent “robber barons” of the late 19th century turned to philanthropy at the end of their lives. They all donated major portions of their personal assets to finance life-changing breakthroughs in the arts, education, and science.

Initially, these men suppressed opposition, including labor unrest, on their way to the top. “Powerful” is an inadequate word for them. They eventually switched their ambition from selfish motives to humanitarian goals, however. Perhaps these deeply religious men (John D. Rockefeller didn’t even smoke or drink) desired to give back a portion of what they had received.

Andrew Carnegie (1835-1919) Steel

This entrepreneur is considered one of the richest people ever. In 1901, he sold Carnegie Steel for $480 million to John Pierpont (J.P.) Morgan. I have no idea what that would be in today’s money.  It boggles the mind.

  • Gave away 90% of his fortune to charities, foundations, universities, and libraries
  • Funded critical medical research
  • Built Carnegie Hall in 1891 (This venue is still one of the most prestigious sites for both classical and popular music in the world.)

John D. Rockefeller (1839-1937) Oil

 He’s the patriarch of the still-strong Rockefeller clan. His net worth at its peak was $334 billion. His company, Standard Oil, was so powerful that the Supreme Court eventually broke it down into smaller companies.

  • Founded University of Chicago and Rockefeller University
  • Served in his church
  • Created foundations that affected medicine, education, and scientific research

Cornelius (Commodore) Vanderbilt (1797-1877) Railroads and shipping

This titan is considered one of the richest Americans in history. He pretty much controlled the early railroads, although he began his career in shipping.

  • Descendants also include powerful people. His niece, Consuela,  married the 9th Duke of Marlborough, the cousin of Sir Winston Churchill.  His great-great-granddaughter is fashion designer, Gloria Vanderbilt. Her son is TV news anchor, Anderson Cooper.
  • Financed Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee

John Pierpont (JP) Morgan (1837-1913) Banking

He was so rich; his wealth was often considered as a percentage of the gross national product (GNP). Let’s put it this way: He loaned the U.S. government the money to build the Panama Canal.

  • Trustee of the American Museum of Natural History in New York City
  • Donated a huge amount of his personal art collection and finances to the Metropolitan Museum of Art (the Met) in New York

NOTE: This is the largest art museum in America and the second most-visited one in the world (second only to Paris’ Louvre.) It also offers world-class performances. Wikipedia calls it one of the most prestigious cultural hubs around.  Approximately five million visitors a year enjoy this extravaganza of sophistication.

My Conclusion

The top entrepreneurs of the Gilded Age were usually considered ruthless and cunning. Some of their descendants have also been successful, because the accomplishments were paid forward. Aside from worldly success, these men maintained religious devotion and service throughout their stellar careers.

Near the end of their lives, they came to realize that power and money weren’t enough of a legacy for them. These powerful men’s priorities changed. They turned their interests to serving other people instead of controlling them.

Maybe we can learn a lesson from them. Today’s influence only goes so far, and it doesn’t bring eternal rewards. The best heritage to leave for our families, or all of mankind, is one of kindness and service.

We remember and use the universities, the libraries, and the cultural centers built with their resources. Do we recall the details of their finances and organizations?

Think about it.

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