After I read the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, I was very impressed with his life and achievements. Benjamin Franklin played many roles his life, he was a printer, a writer, an inventor, a public servant and one of the Founding Fathers of America.
But what struck me most was his ability to introspect.
Through introspection, Franklin devised an action plan for achieving perfection in his behavior and hoped that it would help him achieve his goals in life more easily. He identified his fallacies and came up with his own strategy of overcoming them.
Of course, he was after all human and couldn’t completely get over these shortcomings, but he left a blueprint for the world of self-improvement, these he called the virtues.
These 13 virtues of conducting oneself through life are enumerated for your benefit and mine.
“Look round the habitable world, how few
Know their own good, or, knowing it, pursue!”
The 13 Virtues of Benjamin Franklin
“Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation”
Temperance has two meanings self-control and complete abstinence from alcohol.
Although abstinence is not what Franklin was referring to, he merely meant that a person must have control over himself and not indulge too much in food or alcohol, so as to harm his health. Benjamin Franklin attributed this virtue to his good health and composition.
He did live to be 88 years.
“Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation”
With silence he meant to control his tongue, so as not to waste his time and that of others in idle gossip and unnecessary conversation.
Since gaining knowledge was also a high precept in his life, Franklin observed that it was more important for him to use his ears rather than his tongue for this endeavor. Hence, silence was high on his priority list.
He also wanted to get rid of his habit of prattling, punning and joking.
“Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.”
He intended for this virtue to award him more time for his projects and studies.
But this is the virtue he struggled with the most.
As Walter Isaacson has mentioned in his biography of Benjamin Franklin, “He was a sloppy man, and he eventually decided that he was so busy and had such a good memory that he didn’t need to be too orderly.”
“Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve”
Was meant to help him stick to all the other virtues.
There are several examples of Benjamin making resolutions in his life, at one point he did become a vegetarian, which he gave up after some time.
“Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself i.e waste nothing”
He believed that industry and frugality would help him become debt-free and give him the independence he required in life. Franklin mentions in his autobiography that his wife too, was frugal and industrious just like him. He writes,”We kept no idle servants, our table was plain and simple, our furniture of the cheapest. For instance, my breakfast was a long time bread and milk(no tea), and I ate it out of a twopenny earthen porringer, with a pewter spoon.”
“Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions”
As an example, his entire life was dedicated to Industry or constant work. As a printer in his initial years, then a public servant and always a writer and inventor.
Franklin considered industry as a means of obtaining wealth and distinction. His father repeated a proverb of Solomon’s to him in his childhood, “Seest thou a man diligent in his calling, he shall stand before kings, he shall not stand before mean men.”
As mentioned by Franklin, he did meet five Kings in his lifetime and even dined with the King of Denmark.
“Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you, speak, speak accordingly”
Sincerity was very important to him, he believed that it attributed to him the confidence of his country and the honorable employment that he received from the government and the Regency.
“Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty”
The greatest example of serving Justice can be seen in his proposal for levying taxes. The taxes at that time were standard for everyone irrespective of their assets or income, so Franklin proposed that the taxes should be levied in proportion to the property owned by an individual, this he proposed in the Junto(his own secret society), even though this idea took time to materialize it showed you insight into Franklin’s character.
“Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve”
“Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths or habitation“
As an example, Benjamin Franklin on observing a poor woman sweeping the street outside where he was living when in London, he came up with a plan to keep the streets clean. He wrote to Dr. Fothergill, “For the more effectual cleaning and keeping clean the streets of London and Westminster, it is proposed that the several watchmen be contracted with to have the dust swept up in dry seasons and the mud raked up at other times, each in the several streets and lanes of his round; that they be furnished with brooms and other proper instruments for these purposes, to be kept at their respective stands, ready to furnish the poor people they may employ in the service.”
“Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable”
“Rarely use venery but for health or off-spring, never to dullness,weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation”
“Imitate Jesus and Socrates”
Originally, there were only 12 virtues enlisted by Franklin but he was informed by a friend that he was guilty of “pride” and so he added Humility as a virtue.
Franklin wrote,”In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility”
These virtues were a pragmatic endeavor by Franklin to achieve his goals in life.
He approached these virtues in a very simple manner
And like him who, having a garden to weed, does not attempt to eradicate all the bad herbs at once, which would exceed his reach and his strength, but works on one of the beds at a time.
Franklin made a small notebook in which he allotted a page each for each virtue, he created seven columns on each page, one for each day of the week. He also made thirteen rows on the page and wrote the first letter of each virtue in each of those rows. He decided to tackle one virtue each week, while also marking the faults of the day on this chart. With each week he saw an improvement in himself and thus with time had less faults marked on paper.