Of all the founders of the United States, Ben Franklin was probably the most accomplished because of his contributions in statesmanship, diplomacy, science, inventions, and publishing. What he is less known for are the virtues he committed to when he was 20 and used to guide his life.
Virtues are traits which we consider to be morally right and desirable in a person. Every religion has virtues providing guidance to their believers. There is a remarkable similarity among these.
The virtues that Ben Franklin developed for himself were:
- Temperance: Eat not to dullness. Drink not to elevation.
- Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.
- 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.
- Industry: Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.
- 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.
- Moderation: Avoid extremes. Forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
- Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes, or habitation.
- Tranquility: Be not disturbed as trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
- Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring; never to dullness, weakness, or the injury or your own or another’s peace or reputation.
- Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
Franklin selected one virtue each week to work on. Then he would track how he did on the virtue for that week each day in his journal. His journaling is very similar to the approach that many people use today.
Franklin accepted the fact that he did not always live up to his virtues every day, but he felt that being aware of his virtues and writing about them made him a better person. In his autobiography, he made a great emphasis on his virtues as a contributor to his success.
All of us have virtues that have guided us even though we may not have written them down as Franklin did or tracked our efforts in light of our virtues. Some questions we might ask ourselves about our virtues include:
- How clear are our virtues in our daily consciousness?
- How many virtues are realistic to be meaningful?
- Are our virtues inward or outward focused (most of Franklin’s were inward focused)?
- How do we let our virtues be the guidance in how we live our lives?
- Who can help us monitor our virtues?
- How can we help others in virtue identification and achievement?
Virtues are the way we express our faith in ourselves and others as we live our lives. They become the basis for how we interact with others, how we make decisions, and the legacy we want to leave.
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“The strength of a man’s virtue should not be measured by his special exertions, but by his habitual acts.” – Blaise Pascal (Philosopher)