Benjamin Franklin lived an astounding life. The founding father in his day was a leading author, printer, postmaster, scientist, inventor, civic activist, statesman and diplomat. His resume is so long that I could continue for days.
Franklin’s probably best known today for drafting the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, and for his experiments with electricity. The legend though started small.
When Ben Franklin was a young man, he came up with and committed himself to a personal improvement program that consisted of living 13 virtues.
The 13 virtues were:
- “TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”
- “SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”
- “ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.”
- “RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.”
- “FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.”
- “INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”
- “SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.”
- “JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.”
- “MODERATION. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.”
- “CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloths, or habitation.”
- “TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”
- “CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.”
- “HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.”
A new spin on Ben’s virtues
When I was in high school, one of our English teacher’s would work with the Senior Class each year to perform a senior variety show. For our year, he created a parody, called appropriately enough Ben, that spoofed his virtues.
In one skit in the show, I was asked to play a Boy Scout who goes in front of a Judge Judy-style reality court room TV show (back then it was called the People’s Court with Judge Wapner) to protect my good name for helping a little old lady cross the street. In our skit, of course, the little old lady didn’t want help crossing the street. After both sides had a chance to tell their side of the story, the substitute judge, aka Rambo, took out the entire courtroom with a machine gun in a blaze of glory. While a little offbeat, the show was a mix of Ben’s virtues told through the cockeyed lens of the day’s pop culture and silly high school humor.
We, of course, had our own Ben Franklin character, dressed in period garb, who came out at various points in the show to espouse a clean, honest life. Thanks to that show, I think occasionally about Ben’s virtues. In particular, I’ve been wondering lately how dear old Ben might fare in modern society.
Ben in the Internet-age
How tranquil would he be getting his morning coffee when the guy next to him in line pulls out his cellphone and starts talking loudly? Would Ben be so tranquil then?
In this day and age of social media, would he be as industrious. Instead of being employed in something useful, would he get caught up playing Grand Theft Auto or Super Mario? Would he have his own Facebook or Instagram account?
Couldn’t you see Ben’s Instagram post: “Hey everyone, look at my new electrifying new invention!” Or maybe he’d send it out via SnapChat.
Ben was certainly notorious with the ladies in his day, so I would expect that Temperance and Humility would continue to challenge him. If you traveled down to Philadelphia today, would you find Ben out on South Street on a Friday night, hitting all the popular bars and nightspots? Or would be hard at work in Center City, putting out the next issue of the Pennsylvania Gazette?
But maybe the tools and apps we have today would make Ben more resolute. He would be at the forefront in using GoFundMe, right? He’d get new investors to help fund his science projects and support the Patriotic cause, right?
Working on constant improvement
While Franklin, by his own admission, fell short of the virtues many times, he believed the attempt made him a better man contributing greatly to his success and happiness. In his autobiography Franklin wrote, “I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.”
So that leaves me with the question, how would Ben fare? I honestly don’t know, but in celebration of his life, I’ve been tracking my own success with Ben’s 13 virtues. Let’s say I’m failing in some areas, doing better in others.
I’m no Ben Franklin, but then Ben wouldn’t want it that way, that wasn’t his purpose. He would want me to be the best version of myself. And maybe there I’m doing as good as can be expected.
Great writing, Brian. I read a book about him he certainly would be on the “hot seat,” and
the women would be coming out about his promiscuity.
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