Saturday, 2 January 2010

Franklin's Wisdom

I plan to tell you lots about some of the wonderful things I got for Christmas. One of them was the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. It's been something I've wanted for a long time as it was recommended in another book I admire, Steven Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. In fact, looking for this among the biographical section of our local library was what got me started reading the women's biographies I found there. Unfortunately, Ben Franklin wasn't on their shelves, but I was reminded of this book by a mention in the Happiness Project and so added it to my Christmas wishlist.

The first part is the tale of his adventures as a young man. He doesn't portray these as adventures, rather he relates the nature of his relationship with his father and a brother and a bit about the customs of the day and then how things just happened that he moved from Boston to Philadelphia and became self-sufficient at a very young age.

Then there is a section that describes his efforts at self-improvement, both of his intellect and his moral character. For the latter he produced a list of qualities he felt important and gave each a specific definition. He then put them in order such that one would help him attain the next. Then he made a chart with those qualities down the left side and days of the week across the top. In the boxes he put marks for when he felt he failed to practice the quality of the week. His aim was to have a blemish free week for each trait before tackling the next one.

His list looks pretty straight-forward at first glance, I thought, but the definitions are killers.

  • Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation
  • Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversations
  • 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; ie waste nothing
  • Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off unnecessary actions
  • Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly and if you speak, speak accordingly
  • Justice: Wrong no one by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty
  • Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve
  • Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes or habitation
  • Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable
  • Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness or to the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation
  • Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates
He said that in one year's time, he only made it through the list 3 times and in the next year even less. I don't know if he had to maintain the first qualities to continue down the list or if it was an exercise in 'practice' rather than 'perfection'.

Still, if you're lacking inspiration for your New Year's resolutions, these might provide a few ideas...


Tricia said...

That was great, thanks for sharing. I'm bookmarking this post to be able to come back and reread soon :)

FB @ said...

Sounds like a good way to start the year off right

I tend to keep it simple for my resolutions, but achievable rather than being something I cannot control, like wanting to move to Dallas.

Pauline Wiles said...

Yes, tough list. I'm impressed he made it through 3 times!
Would be interested to hear how you like 7 Habits.

Rick Stone said...

You've inspired me. Franklin's book sounds interesting so I've ordered one from

Shelley said...

Tricia -- Thanks very much for visiting. I'll look forward to future chats!

FB - Keeping it simple is always a good idea and one that I completely fail to do. Why on earth would you want to move to Dallas?? If I absolutely had to live in Texas, I'd go for Galveston, or maybe Austin.

Struggler -- I liked 7 Habits a lot, though I never managed to practice what he preaches very well. Perhaps I think he sounds preachy because I know he's Mormon -- his Franklin planners are practically required in Salt Lake City if you want to be taken seriously at work. It's even made it over to England's management workshops, if in a slightly watered down version. If you've never read it, go to the library and get a copy!

Rick -- Knowing a bit about your Dad's life, I think you will really enjoy Franklin's biography. Happy Reading!

Pauline Wiles said...

Thanks for the info you sent about 7 Habits; you're right, this is a different concept from the Bucket List, but how we'd like to be remembered at our funeral is probably even more important and I suspect can provide a useful 'compass' for deciding on the direction of our lives...