I’ve been reading the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin the past week or so (it’s a fast read, but it competes with the other books – I’m not a “one book at a time” kind of girl) and I’m noticing that one common thread throughout his life was his constant striving for self improvement. He managed to be an inventor, writer, printer, scientist, diplomat, politician, and activist.
He left his family in his late teens, after he had an argument with his brother, to whom he was apprenticed; and moved to Pennsylvania (considered a foreign “country” then, because the colonies hadn’t yet united) where he managed to become a leading printer, thanks to the fact that he worked tirelessly. He took pride in being the first one up and the last one to bed, and in only allowing himself reading as a pastime.
He was always trying to figure out ways to develop his virtues, and while he admits that he wasn’t the most traditionally religious of men, he did believe that he could be a better, more productive person who was of greater service to his community by sticking to thirteen “virtues.” To work on these virtues, he decided each week to focus on one, which would become easier the following week as he added the second. The thirteenth week he would practice all of them together. They included such ideas as Temperance (“eat not to dullness and drink not to elevation”), Silence (“Avoid Trifling Conversation”), Order (“Let all your things have their places, and each part of your business its time”), among others. To track his progress, he made a little chart, and at the end of the day he filled in how he did in each area. He figured that with thirteen virtues, he could complete four courses of practice throughout the year.
I had first heard about this project of his while reading The Happiness Project, in which Gretchen Rubin tries the idea herself, focusing on one new area of happiness each month, and keeping track of it at the end of each day. I use an app called The Habit Factor myself to track the “virtues” that I want to become habits, which will further my goals, so in a way, I’m already emulating Franklin without knowing it.
People today love this method of Franklin’s. There are tons of goal trackers and even a Fraklin add on template for the DIY Printer. Interesting to note, as much credit as he should get for coming up with this system, all the religious sects of this time emphasized self examination and early Puritans kept journals where they would examine how they were living in accordance with the scriptures, and their beliefs.
Franklin was always working to better himself. When a Quaker friend told him that he was considered prideful, he thought to add Humility to his list, but also realized that if he ever achieved it, he would most likely be proud of his achievement.
Below are Franklin’s List of Virtues. Many of them sound old-fashioned, but I’m guessing that if we actually took some time to think about them in modern terms, we could see that we would probably benefit from them. I like how he thought about them and figured out what was most important to him. I’m going to start thinking about the Virtues that are important to me, and perhaps make up my own list like this to work on.
1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9. MODERATION. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
11. TRANQUILITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. 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.
13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.