A message from The John Templeton Foundation

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Christmas card picture circa 1954

Happy New Year! This week the Cristo Rey Network would like to share the Christmas Gift of Sir John Templeton.

Not long after Sir John Templeton died in 2008, his daughter-in-law Pina Templeton discovered a curious document in his personal archives. It was a short letter the legendary investor and philanthropist had included with his family Christmas card mailed out in 1962.

“Though it wasn’t as common back then as it is today, people might have opened the Christmas card letter expecting to find an update on John Templeton’s family, or maybe even some stock tips,” says Dr. Jack Templeton, Sir John’s son and president of the John Templeton Foundation. “Instead, the letter began, On the 1962nd birthday of Christ, we invite you, our friends, to share with us this little simile: Are You In Control of Your Mind?”

An unusual start to a Yuletide message? No doubt—but one entirely in the spirit of the visionary investor who was not born into wealth, but who spent the Great Depression diligently preparing the ground from which his great fortune later grew. The short letter, which we have reproduced below in its entirety, encouraged readers to think of the mind as a garden, and themselves as responsible for tending it. The goal is not simply to render one’s mind healthy and productive for its own sake, but rather to open itself to God and to love—and in so doing, to cultivate one’s gifts to be a blessing to others. Sir John believed that after love, the greatest gift God gave to humanity was the mind.

Though Sir John was rigorously logical and analytical as a financial strategist, Dr. Templeton believes his father’s choice of a poetical metaphor in this letter reveals something about the way he saw the world: as filled with life and the potential for unlimited bounty—if wisely and lovingly cared for.

“He could have portrayed the mind as a mechanical thing that could be tinkered with to make it run more perfectly,” Dr. Templeton says. “But he saw the mind as something organic, something that could proliferate, and be a source of bountiful blessing for others. He believed that a well-tended mind could contain the seeds of joy and wisdom that could be picked up by the wind, and blow into a neighbor’s garden.”

This past year, Florida State University social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister turned his Templeton-seeded scientific research on free will into a New York Times non-fiction bestseller, Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength (see Templeton Report, Oct. 19). What Sir John knew intuitively half a century ago, science is proving today—and doing so at a time in history when people need the hope that comes from knowing they are not condemned to passivity amid the worst economic crisis since the 1930s Depression.

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Left: Sir John Templeton, Right: Dr. Jack Templeton

“Sir John believed that trouble brought opportunity,” Dr. Templeton says. “He believed that if you look at adversity as a blessing and an opportunity to overcome barriers, then hard times can become a source of enduring joy. If we really believe that we are children of God, then we won’t be fatalistic. We will use the minds that God gave us to thrive in times of crisis.”

From Sir John’s perspective, reminding family, friends, and associates on his Christmas card list of the blessing and the responsibility of God-given free will was a holiday gift greater than any investment advice he might have provided. For some, it might have offered the secret to riches. But for all, it offered the secret to a richly meaningful life.

“Dad was not only suffused with gratitude, I would say that he was almost helpless in the face of gratitude to God,” his son recalls. “He was driven by the desire to express that gratitude by helping others to find mental empowerment, moral empowerment, and spiritual empowerment. He wanted to seed others’ gardens.”

The text of Sir John Templeton’s 1962 Christmas card letter:

On the 1962nd birthday of Christ, we invite you, our friends, to share with us this little simile:

Are You In Control Of Your Mind?

In some ways your mind is like your garden. If you exercise no control, it will become a weed patch and a source of shame and misery. If you exercise wise control, then it will be filled with God’s miracles and become a place of indescribable beauty. You are free to choose which. How can you do it? Simply for example, develop a habit of looking at each thought as you would a plant. If it is worthy, if it fits the plan you desire for your mind, cultivate it. If not, replace it. How do you get it out of your mind? Simply by putting in its place two or three thoughts of love or worship, for no mind can dwell on more than two or three thoughts at one time.

Circumstances outside the garden of your mind do not shape you. You shape them. For example, if you expect treachery, allowing those thoughts to dwell in your mind, you will get it. If you fill your mind with thoughts of love, you will give love and get it. If you think little of God, He will be far from you. If you think often of God, the Holy Spirit will dwell more in you. The glory of the universe is open to every man. Some look and see. Some look and see not.

Gardens are not made in a day. God gave you one lifetime for the job. Control of your garden or your mind grows with practice and study of the wisdom other minds have bequeathed to you. He who produces an item of unique beauty in his garden or his mind may have a duty to give that seed to others. As your body is the dwelling place of your mind, so is your mind the dwelling place of your soul. The mind you develop is your dwelling place for all your days on earth, and the soul you develop on earth may be the soul you are stuck with for eternity. God has given you the choice.

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