The Flame

While on Twitter the other day and I came across a tweet that read “How Benjamin Franklin turned America into a land of with  invention” with the following link. If you follow the link, it takes you to a page showing most of Benjamin Franklin’s achievements from inventing the lightening rod, to owning a printing press, from being an author to being an ambassador. It appears that he covered every spectrum: science, media, literature and diplomacy. In this day and age when everyone is focused on one particular sphere of life, it’s refreshing to think that at one time there was a man who covered all these aspects. As human beings we are not one-dimensional. We have varied interests and hobbies and can work at being good and great at all these things. No doubt Benjamin Franklin was a talented man, but the question is was it all based on his talent alone?

His biography was the first I ever listened to and what I was most impressed about is how hard he worked at being better.  In his late 20s (my age :-)), he came up with a list of what he called the 13 virtues

Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your 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.

Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.

Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

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.

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.

Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

He would then pick a virtue and work on one each day and ask himself at the end of the day how well he had done in what he set out to do. History tells us that he often went astray, but it didn’t deter him from working on these virtues. In the audio book I heard, I learned that he latter abandoned the practice of working on a habit per day later on, but this happened after he had instilled the habit of actively working to make himself better.

What can we learn from Franklin’s behavior.

  1. 13 virtues: We should all ask ourselves what is most important to us and look at improving in all those areas. Personally, my life is divided into financial, intellectual, spiritual and social and I try to set goals in each based on what I want to get out of each area. Whether religious or not, there are certain principles that should guide any human being. These principles require attention.
  2. 13 definitions: Not only did Franklin list principles, he also wrote out what each meant to him which would lead to the actions to take. For instance being healthy might be an important virtue, but it’s so broad that if you don’t define what it means for you, it’ll be hard to focus your efforts. It could mean keeping a certain weight for some, or exercising 3 days a week for others. It’s when the personal meaning of these principles are defined that the activities which guide them become clearer.
  3. Daily Practice: It is often said that it takes 3 weeks to make something a habit. It’s not enough to just come up with principles and activities, but one has to consciously work at accomplishing them. We may not be able to do it like Franklin did, even he failed sometimes. I try every day to come up with a list of activities that match my personal goals and I don’t accomplish them all, however I try to make sure that I take a step towards that direction. Sometimes making a list appears to limit what you can do, just like people believe budgets don’t give you freedom. I believe these lists give freedom because you choose what you want to place on them and then they direct you towards what you really want.

One might look at Franklin’s life and think he led a very rigid life, but look at where it got him. From Philly to France (The French loved him so he couldn’t have been that rigid/boring) and almost everywhere in between. He started the torch that has guided a lot of innovative people over the years and his practices began where the spark (for me) left off.

For a look at history, here’s a page from Franklin’s journal (from the link I pointed out earlier)

Franklin Journal

2 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jaiden on August 12, 2009 at 11:09 pm

    Wow.This is some deep stuff. I actually commend u for thinking about this all on your own.. Who would have thought that in 2009 we can still find a tangible n intellectual connection with the 1700s and Benjamin Franklin..(you get two snaps)..The 13 virtues are a classic I actually never knew that they faves are humility n resolution..I hope many people can take heed to what your blog has to offer and try and instill these virtues in their everyday life n activities…Good job bro!

    Adios amigo


  2. Posted by Yewande on August 14, 2009 at 1:53 am

    Yeah thats cool. I need to work on virtues.


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