At the ripe old age of twenty, Benjamin Franklin set out to make himself morally perfect. Having studied the ancient philosophers and their ideas of the virtues required to be an ideal man, he created his own list of thirteen virtues. Like the virtue ethicists of the ancient past and more modern times, Franklin sought to develop his entire character rather than focus on the question of how to act in a certain situation.
His hope being that with the perfection of his character, he would never again have to ask how to act, as he would simply act as a virtuous person would by habit. Never again would he commit a fault at any time, he thought. His selections were ordered by importance, and he saw the earliest ones as being needed to achieve the latter ones. They were also chosen for simplicity, as each covers a small and defined area of character.
Benjamin Franklin suggests that in order to develop yourself properly, you should focus on improving one quality at a time rather than trying to tackle all thirteen points at once. Look at your own habits and areas of interest and to choose one principle to focus on improving at a time. Today we are constantly bombarded by news and social media messages from all around the world.
This 24-hour news cycle has changed the way we absorb information, and it has shifted the way we identify reliable content. In fact, it has even changed the way that we think about what is important and how we envision success. The thirteen principles of Benjamin Franklin can help you cut through the noise and develop a clear understanding of what is truly important to you.
Here are the 13 virtues of Benjamin Franklin and their applicability today.
Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
- Temperance is not a trait that comes easily to many people. We live in a world driven by consumerism and excess, and we are constantly being sold on bottomless brunches or all you can eat buffets. Still, there is a growing movement of temperance and minimalism, especially among young people. The growth of this movement is something to watch out for moving forward.
Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
- We live in an age of connectivity and ” always on” engagement. Too often we’re caught up reading our social media feeds and updating people on our every thought and action. Interestingly, we are seeing a push away from this hyper connectivity towards “digital detoxes” and the growing popularity of silent retreats.
Let all your things have their places.
- With more information comes a greater need for order. If Benjamin Franklin were alive today, he would be blown away by the number of organizations, apps, and programs available to people looking to streamline their lives.
Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
- Goal setting is a top priority for most millennials and young people, yet people still struggle to follow through on their resolutions. Once you make a decision about something you want to accomplish, try your best to stick to it by setting out a definite plan for accomplishing it.
Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself.
- For example, waste nothing. Frugality isn’t sexy, but it is seductively addictive. While most people would prefer to live a life of luxury and drive luxury sports cars all day, the skill required to live frugally and within your means translates into an amazing strength of will and character. Plus, it can actually be fun. Living within (or below) your means during good times is one way to ensure that you can survive when times are tough. There are a number of resources available online that provide advice on how to save money on everything from rent to food to transportation and leisure travel.
Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
- Being busy for the sake of business is not helpful. Rather, being productive by doing only that which is useful to you or someone else is key to success. Always be looking for ways to cut out unnecessary actions.
Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
- Being truthful and sincere in your thoughts, words, and deeds is one of the best ways to achieve happiness and develop stronger relationships with those around you. While you may look for ways to avoid telling the truth because it might be hurtful or damaging, consider what affect it will have on you if you constantly have to hide how you truly feel.
Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
- Effectively, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Don’t be rude.
Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
- Avoid becoming overly obsessive about any one thing or idea. Live a life of balance and moderation and you will be much better at making challenging decisions.
Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
- Pretty straight forward, don’t be a slob.
Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
- Try your best, then don’t worry, be happy. If you aren’t able to accomplish a goal but you’ve still tried your very best, there is no use worrying.
Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
- While this may seem like a rather antiquated principle, the power of chastity is not to be underestimated. There is a growing population of people who are self-diagnosed sex addicts or porn addicts. Addiction to pornography and sex can affect productivity and the ability to focus on long term goals.
Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
- While this may seem rather dated, there is much to be said for emulating the lives of those who have lived simple and influential lives. Clearly, some of these virtues are more relevant than others, but most of the principles mentioned represent areas of personal development that nearly everyone on earth struggles with in one way or another.
Bejamin Franklin’s method of enacting these virtues was simple, on a weekly basis he focused on one virtue and one alone, leaving the others to chance and the strength of his character. At the end of each day, he reflected on rather or not he had lived up to that virtue and recorded the answer. His goal was to make each virtue a habit, and thus achieve moral perfection. By his own admission his failures in reaching moral perfection were many and often of great magnitude.
His acknowledged illegitimate son William, his often-indomitable pride, and his love for wine which occasionally went to excess are both admitted and well known. He also noted that his career choices often prevented him from reaching the ideal of “Order”, often by no real fault of his own. However, despite never reaching moral perfection and having the major failures that he acknowledged in his own character.
He still continued the project for most of his life. It was the attempt at reaching an ideal that made him better, even if he was remarkably far from reaching it. Even when he was unable to reach the ideals of personal growth, by either his own vices or by circumstance, he was constantly able to improve by means of practice. And, in the end, isn’t that what matters?