-Ben Franklin” by Joseph-Siffrein Duplessis
By: John Brandon with inspiration from “The Art of Manliness” at:
1n 1726 when Franklin turned 20 years old, convinced of the necessity of it, devised a systematic method to improve his character. “I proposed to myself, for the sake of clearness, to use rather more names with fewer ideas annexed to each, than a few names with more ideas, and I included under thirteen names of virtues all that at that time occurred to me as necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept, which fully expressed the extent I gave to its meaning” – Ben Franklin
Today I embark on a similar journey, at a much later time in my life to improve my character. To that end I have vowed to follow the plan outlined by Franklin some 289 years ago. I believe after reviewing many schemes that these virtues remain relevant to our time as they will remain for all time and for all people. Character is important. It defines us not only to others but most importantly character defines those ideals we wish to maintain for ourselves. Those touchstones that we may use to identify if we measure up to the standards of an internal standard which we find acceptable to enjoy life and to be an example that others may look too with approval. So with some trepidation of if I will follow through this exercise I embark.
“Tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and a happier man than I otherwise would have been if I had not attempted it.” So even Franklin knew he was never to obtain perfection of character. The important things in life often fall short of the perfection we desire a however they continue to deserve our attention and our best effort.
Franklin’s system was quite simple. He listed the 13 virtues on a chart to keep track of his progress toward each goal. Every week his focus would fall on one specific virtue, while keeping track of each his focus every week was on that one specific goal. Every week his focus would shift to another of the thirteen virtues and then repeat the cycle again so that he would make four rounds of efforts in any given year.
He placed a simple mark on his chart beside each virtue that he believed he had failed to measure up to each day. Franklin, as I suspect of myself, initially fell short and found himself placing far too many marks on his chart. But gradually, with focus and effort he discovered that there were fewer and fewer marks. He nor I or you will ever obtain the goal of “moral perfection” yet it was important for Franklin as it is for us all to try and by trying to do.
The mere focus on a particular virtue each week and cycling through those with repetition will lead us to a recognition of the importance of each and through our tendency to form habits by repetition the exercise will lead us each to better habitual behavior. Without further explanation, Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues:
- Temperance. Eat not to dullness and drink not to elevation.
- Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself, avoid trifling conversation.
- Order. Let all your things have their place; let each part of our 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 employed in something useful; cut 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 Wrong none by doing resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
- Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloths, or habitation.
- Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
- Chastity. Rarely use venery (sex) 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.
So today begins this week’s focus on Temperance. As Franklin wrote:
“Temperance puts wood on the fire, meal in the barrel, flour in the tub, money in the purse, credit in the country, contentment in the house clothes on the back, and vigor in the body”.
From “The Art of Manliness” come these suggestions for living the virtue of Temperance:
-Eat only when you’re hungry; stop when full.
-Chew your food slowly and savor each mouthful.
-Don’t eat on the go or in front of your computer or television.
-Try not to eat anything with sugar in it.
-Fast for a meal or two; notice how it affects your appreciation for food;
-Drink alcohol only in moderation or abstain from it altogether.
You and I will move through the cycle of Thirteen Virtues together. I will share with you each Monday my observations and progress and invite you to comment on your own experiences as we examine our own behavior in a systematic manner. We will see if we can live up to Franklin’s ideal. He fell short, especially in the category of Order (and Chastity), as I expect to fall short in one or more areas. But the key is to do, not just to try but to do. We will by doing achieve a noble goal: to become a better person. And this shall prove to be a goal well worth pursuing.
-Your pal John