Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues: Silence

Ben Franklin, A Republic if You Can Keep It

Today is our second week of practicing Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues. I wonder how you did on Temperance the first of the virtues that we practiced this past week? I was impressed that by thinking about the value of temperance I was able to take my consumption of food and drink down to what was required for my nourishment but did not binge or indulge (well, OK one doughnut but really who could resist a Krispy Kreme doughnut and I only had one!).

For our second week we move on to what I know I need more help with: Silence

“Silence is not always a sign of wisdom, but babbling is ever a folly” – Ben Franklin

A few suggestions from The Art of Manliness for living the virtue of Silence this week:

  • Listen more and talk less during conversations.
  • Don’t talk (or even check) your smartphone when engaged in face-to-face interaction.
  • Keep texts and online comments appropriate, civil and respectful.
  • Abstain from swearing.
  • Curb sarcastic and cynical comments.
  • Do chores or other activities without music or TV in the background.
  • Before deciding to say something online or in-person ask yourself these three questions:
    • Is it true?
    • Is it kind?
    • Is it necessary?

Today’s world is full of distractions, many of them that we do not have direct control over especially while engaged in business or other outside activities. Many of the distractions that we do have control over are often used to entertain us while we try to accomplish other activities or chores that we may not want to do, cleaning the house comes to mind. But when we have other distractions in the background even as an accompaniment to something we dislike to do we lose the opportunity to think. Our own thoughts are drowned out by the constant sounds of music or TV in the background.

Some may find, like me that ideas or issues we have been wrestling with often become clearer to us, almost as a revelation in quite times while engaged in often unrelated activities. How many times have I thought of a good idea while in the shower? Or the old but true statement that “I woke up at 3 am with the solution”. The silence that sleep affords us gives our minds the opportunity to focus on all those problems or issues that we wrestle with unsuccessfully during the day. Many of life’s issues are solved during silent introspective periods, without thinking about an answer the solution often becomes apparent.

This concept of Silence certainly applies as we relate to each other more and more through electronic media such as smartphones or emails. People lose the common courtesy of paying attention to who you are with at the moment and increasingly seem to want to “multi-task”, even to the extent of being discourteous to whoever we are with by checking out smartphones for messages or even answering those texts while we are engaged in direct conversation with others. You know how that feels inside when someone does that to you? It makes you feel like the other person does not think you are quite as important as whatever they are doing on the smartphone, it offends you on some level and that is unfortunate.

Now turn the table around and do something about that seemingly ubiquitous behavior of checking your phone for messages while with someone. If you are engaged in a direct conversation, whether face-to-face or over the phone pay attention to who you are with, only them and to nothing else. It will be amazing how important you make the other person feel but it will also improve the clarity that you are able to provide to the conversation.

To become a good listener is one of my personal goals. In order to listen you need to be silent. Not that you should not engage in the conversation at hand but you should listen more than you talk. Practice hearing what the other person is saying and comment accordingly, not as often happens taking their comment and then relating a story about yourself, almost as if in a competition of who has the better story or experience. If your story is relevant to the conversation you can offer it at the appropriate time, but not as a one-up on your companion’s experience.

I believe we all are guilty to a degree of digressing into using swearing as a relief valve. What we don’t realize is that by using discourteous words, especially in public we risk offending those around us. That offense causes them to not listen to what we are really trying to say but rather thinking about how crudely we are relating our story or our frustration. Swearing may feel good for a moment but it reduces our chances of getting our main point across to the other person and either turns them off or escalates the conversation into a yelling match, neither outcome productive. Use your vocabulary to express yourself with cleverness not crudity. This is one that I am sure we all can do a better job of accomplishing through focus and practice.

And I will leave you this week with the three questions to ask yourself before speaking or responding to any matter:

  • Is it true?
  • Is it kind?
  • Is it necessary?

Have a great week with Ben Franklin and practicing the Virtue of Silence. See you next week.

Your pal John.

Visit  for other great ideas on shaping your own life.

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A Friend's Friend. Retired following a 35-yr successful career as a city planner and commercial real estate developer due to chronic physical and mental disabilities. As I begin this next chapter I want to learn to become a better listener and through that skill become a better friend. My focus is on God, my family, my friends and my community. I desire to put into practice the saying that love is a powerful verb full of hope and possibility. I confess my sins in the name of Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. Never be daunted due to any difficulty that life deals you but remember that life is good, it is ALL good!

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