On October 7th, I’ll be in conversation with Dr. Keisha Blain, a New York Times bestselling author, about her new biography on Fannie Lou Hammer, Until I Am Free.
In The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, the oldest, wisest, least problematic founding father lists “13 virtues” that “occurr’d to me as necessary or desirable.”
1. TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
2. SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
3. ORDER. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
4. RESOLUTION. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
5. FRUGALITY. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
6. INDUSTRY. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
7. SINCERITY. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
8. JUSTICE. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9. MODERATION. Avoid extreams; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
11. TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. CHASTITY. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
13. HUMILITY. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
The number was intentional. Franklin devoted a week to each virtue and charted his progress. At the end of 13 weeks, he started the process again. He completed four cycles a year.
I judg’d it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time; and, when I should be master of that, then to proceed to another, and so on, till I should have gone thro’ the thirteen; and, as the previous acquisition of some might facilitate the acquisition of certain others, I arrang’d them with that view, as they stand above.
“On the whole, tho’ I never arrived at the Perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell short of it,” Franklin wrote, but he found meaning in the process. “Yet as I was, by the Endeavor, a better and a happier Man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.”
The road to becoming a better, happier person is paved with effort and accountability? That’s my love language, sign me up! I think that every fall. I review the virtues, vow to follow them, and promptly forget to do so. But just this morning, I realized that I don’t have to adopt Benjamin Franklin’s idea of moral excellence or rigidly adhere to his schedule to achieve it. I can make my own. I’m not sure what that means yet, but naming a google doc “Ben Franklin Vibes Only” and admitting it to thousands of people seems like a good start.
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