I want to talk about Benjamin Franklin. That’s right. I have always admired this “founding father,” to the point of dressing up like him in Elementary school for history week (and thank God my mom indulged me with her sewing!) Now, imagine my delight to hunker down in a blanket with tiny dogs and a Ken Burns film about my Founding Father BFF on PBS. What’s wonderful about more modern retellings is that they are often more realistic.
Ben Franklin, as we are taught, did experiments with electricity, was a Quaker, believed in being industrious, (and, of course, was an original signer of the Declaration of Independence.) It’s all true, but paints a rather dull picture. He did believe it was important to be industrious, and was wildly curious, and joined the Quakers at a young age, but this was largely because he was destitute and saw a group of “well-dressed” people going into a building, so he thought he’d follow them. He slept through his first Quaker meeting entirely. He was alone in Philadelphia at 16 because 1) he ran away from an apprenticeship (read: indentured servitude for nine years) with his brother’s print shop and 2) he told a ship captain in Boston that he had impregnated a girl and needed to skip town. *Not* the most virtuous beginning. He joined a printing shop in Philadelphia and promptly fell in love with his landlord’s daughter, Deborah, who he planned to marry. He helped develop the first American moveable type cast to eliminate the need to send for them in London, He was offered a letter of introduction to a lord in London by a rich Quaker, only to find on arrival that the promised introduction and funding were forgotten by his unreliable friend. On his own, though he found work in a print shop in London, he would have qualified as a rakish devil, often, in his own words, falling in with “low women.” In his absence, Deborah married someone else, who left her in less than two years to find his fortune in the West Indies. When Ben returned to Philadelphia, he found Deborah alone, and struck up a friendship and rekindling of their feelings. Deborah’s husband was reported as dead, but there was no way at the time to confirm this, and the punishment for bigamy was public flogging and execution (wow.) Remarkably, though unable to marry, Ben and Deborah moved in together and began a common law relationship. (I have no idea why this was somehow fine, but marrying would be punishable by death. Anyhoo, back to our story 🙂
At age 20, with a more settled life and budding political aspirations, Franklin wanted to live what he knew were better values. What followed was America’s first known “self-help” book, of a sort, though it was solely for personal use. The idea of self-improvement was new, but it stemmed from the enlightenment, which later ushered in the American and subsequent French revolutions. (On another topic, Franklin may well have been a catlyst for the French revolution—look that one up! But back to our story)
According to Franklin, his initial list was of 12 virtues, but then a Quaker friend pointed out that he might want to consider *ahem* adding ‘humility.’ Conveniently, this 13th virtue allowed for the second step, where Franklin concentrated on one virtue per week. Given 52 weeks, this meant that four (4) times a year each virtue became the center of attention.
- TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation. (Just say no to gluttony and drunkenness)
- SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation. (avoid gossip, aka, if you don’t have something nice to say…..also see #7)
- ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time. (stay organized)
- RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve. (keep your promises)
- FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing. (waste not, want not)
- INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions. (don’t waste your time on frivolities, unless they’re French)
- SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly. (be authentic in speech and actions)
- JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty. (You break it, you buy it)
- MODERATION. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve. (control your anger, cultivate generosity of spirit)
- CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation. (working on the habitation part…)
- TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable. (Don’t sweat the small stuff)
- 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. (it’s for health, ya’ll…)
- HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.” (’nuff said)
Endeavoring to live according to what Jesus taught us is embodied in this list. I love lists.