Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Benjamin Franklin's Thirteen Virtues

In my last post, I talked about the presentation I gave at work about the secrets of success. Yesterday, a co-worker gave his presentation, and part of it talked about Benjamin Franklin's “Thirteen Virtues.”

Franklin developed this list of virtues when he was 20 years old with the goal of self-improvement. He kept a little notebook wherein he would keep track of when he failed in each virtue. Each week, he would focus on one particular virtue to work on. While by his own admission he fell short many times, he felt that his efforts made him a better man, and it seemed to have worked. His death provided just one indicator of how his life was lead: approximately 20,000 people attended his funeral.

Around the same time that he developed his list of virtues, he wrote what at the time he hoped would be his epitaph. Ultimately, in his will, he specified that the stone should simply bear his name and that of his wife, but I found the discarded epitaph interesting:

The Body of B. Franklin Printer; Like the Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering and Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be wholly lost: For it will, as he believ'd, appear once more, In a new & more perfect Edition, Corrected and Amended By the Author.

As evidenced by his life, he didn't wait for death for his new edition; he revised regularly. So I've been thinking a lot about his virtues and what they mean to my life. In fact, I'm thinking of writing a post about each. Below is Franklin's list of virtues, as presented in his autobiography:

  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. TRANQUILLITY. 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.

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