Share the light: Spread ideas to move humanity forward

Jews in many parts of the world are lighting candles this week during Chanukah. When we light candles, what we do is apply a match or a lighter to one candle and then use that candle to light the others. That candle is called the shamash. It is a helper candle, and is set apart from the others either by space or altitude.

Using the shamash got me thinking about something Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to Isaac McPherson:

He who receives an idea from me, receives instruction himself without lessening mine; as he who lights his taper at mine, receives light without darkening me.

In Jefferson's case, he seems to be arguing against intellectual property rights. He continues:

That ideas should freely spread from one to another over the globe, for the moral and mutual instruction of man, and improvement of his condition, seems to have been peculiarly and benevolently designed by nature ...

Again: We're designed to share ideas to help improve ourselves and each other.

We're designed to share ideas to help improve ourselves and each other #betterhumanhood Click To Tweet

Back to the shamash. It's the "helper candle," but you wouldn't use it to refer to a person who helps people. That would be ezer. Shamash was the ancient Mesopotamian sun god. The shamash brings light.

We shine lights on problems. When we have ideas, we illustrate the notion that we have an idea with a light bulb. In Freemasonry, we ask for light. When we receive light, we ask for more light.

Light is a human metaphor for knowledge.

Regressing toward a higher mean, or, there's room for everyone to be great »

Let's take a brief look at how light — or, more specifically, fire — spreads in our continuing Chanukah example.

If I light a match, I can take the match and light a candle. The match doesn't go out. I probably want to put the match out, or it will run out of fuel and probably burn me. But now I can take that candle, and light other candles with it. All the candles are at full flame: they don't share the original flame. The light multiplies. More people can see.

So, too, if we share what we know. I may not be in agreement with Jefferson over all intellectual property — I definitely think it's important for innovation for people to be able to earn money from their creative endeavors.

If creators don't share their ideas, they can't make money from them, right? You can write and record 300 songs but if no one ever hears them, no one will buy them. If you have wonderful things to teach people and you write a book but never let anyone read it, no one will buy it.

What if the money isn't the big thing here? In fact, if you're a creator, it probably isn't. You need to create. Tim Ferriss says you should only write a book if it would be harder to keep it in than get it out, because writing a book is hard work. So is writing music. So is inventing something, even if it's just a series of incremental tweaks.

Much like you multiply light by sharing a flame from one candle to the next, you multiply knowledge by sharing your ideas with others #betterhumanhood Click To Tweet

If you have a good idea, what you really want to do is get that idea out there. Tell someone. Tell them to tell someone. Let it spread. Yes, it'll be hard to keep the credit, but you know what? You probably grabbed that idea out of the ether and you'll be able to do the same again. And you'll spread that idea. And then you'll get another one. And you'll spread that.

And when you spread your idea around, you still have your idea. There's not just one copy of your idea floating around. Much like fire, you can multiply the power of one idea by sharing it.

This is what Jefferson meant by being designed to spread ideas.

Now, let's talk about responsibility.

If I keep sharing a flame from one candle to the next, or to a torch or a fireplace or maybe a grill or a well-designed backyard fire pit, I share lots of light all around. But if I pass the flame to the cabinets or the picket fence or a wood-framed porch or roof rafters or dried leaves on the forest floor, things can get out of hand very quickly.

If you pass along an idea that moves humanity forward, you share lots of light around. But you can spread that destructive fire, as well, moving humanity backward.

And don't worry about the money. If your ideas move humanity forward, the money will come.


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