The Humble Penny

By Wendy E Shepard, author of “Lucky to be Alive: A Love Story.”

She has written occasionally for the The Journal of the San Juan Islands for over 30 years.

The shiny 2023 copper penny gleamed in my saucer’s pile of coins. Actually, today’s penny is made of zinc, only coated with copper. But in 1787, the first coin minted by the new United States government was a humble penny, made entirely of copper.

That penny is often known as the Franklin Cent. Designed by Benjamin Franklin, the inscription on it carried forward the wisdom of the founding of the United States of America.

On one side of the coin were the words: “Fugio. Mind Your Business.” Very loosely interpreted, it meant, “Time flies. Mind what is yours to do while you still have time to do it.”

On the other side of the coin were the words: “We are One.” An appropriate reminder for the beginnings of a country whose states were meant to be united.

The wisdom of the 1787 penny, also known as the Fugio Cent, needs to be remembered in these turbulent times; the wisdom that suggests that as we go about our individual business, it is important that we do so knowing that we are only one member of a group. The job of any person is to help balance the well-being of both the individual and the group. That is the job of a parent in a family, a teacher in a classroom, the leader of a business, an official in government, a healthcare professional, friendship with another person.

If I call the penny “humble,” it is because the Franklin Cent inscription suggests that no one person is more important than any other. That is the meaning of equality, the heart of democracy. That is the necessity for peaceful human relations.