Every morning before rising, Benjamin Franklin would ask, “What good shall I do today?” Imagine how your day would unfold with a simple, intentional question like that.
I’ve always admired Franklin for his earthy wisdom, wit and phenomenal accomplishments. This founding father, statesman, publisher and scientist invented everything from the lightning rod and bifocals to daylight savings time.
To learn more about him and learn from him, I’m now reading Ben Franklin: America’s Original Entrepreneur, an adaptation of Franklin’s 18th century autobiography by scholar Blaine McCormick, Ph.D.
In Franklin’s ongoing attempt to achieve what he called “moral perfection,” he created a list of 13 moral virtues that have stood the test of time. (His first list only included 12, until a Quaker friend commented on Franklin’s tendency to be arrogant and so he added humility.)
“When I focused my attention on one fault, I found I was often surprised by another,” he wrote. “Passion often proved stronger than reason and bad habits took advantage of my lack of focus or effort on my part. Bad habits must be broken and replaced by good ones if we are to have any hope of being better people. I created the following method to develop such habits.”
Here are the 13 virtues with Franklin’s explanation of each. Pick three virtues and reflect on them. How can you demonstrate these virtues in your life and work? How will they support your success when it comes to your goals?
- Self Control. Avoid dullness from overeating. Avoid drunkenness from overdrinking.
- Silence. Say only those things that benefit others and yourself. Avoid all petty conversation.
- Order. Keep all your possessions in their proper place. Give each part of your business its necessary time.
- Determination. Commit to what you ought to do and always carry out your commitments.
- Economy. Don’t waste your money. Let your only expenses be the doing of good to others or yourself.
- Productivity. Don’t waste your time. Spend your time on useful matters and refrain from unnecessary activities.
- Truthfulness. Avoid lies that harm others. Think without prejudice and, when you speak, speak accordingly.
- Justice. Avoid injuring others with your actions, or withholding from them the benefits they deserve.
- Moderation. Avoid extremes. This applies especially to the holding of grudges against those that have hurt you.
- Cleanliness. Keep body, clothes, and living spaces clean at all times.
- Peace. Don’t be overtaken by either small irritants or by the large troubles that are sure to come.
- Chastity. Indulge your sexual appetites for the sake of health and offspring only. Never indulge to the point of dullness or weakness. Never injure your own or another’s peace or reputation.
- Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
The virtues I will explore are Order, Economy and Productivity. How about you?