On the advice of someone I greatly respect, I just finished reading Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography. It’s a short but fascinating book which I should have read years ago, On the negative side, Franklin must have been the nation’s first self-promoter and he controlled the media of his time. He was also a racist and something of a misogynist. On the other hand, his clarity of vision, industry and self-motivation are as compelling today as they were nearly three centuries ago.
I was struck by the fact that Franklin conceived of “The Virtues” as a kind of blueprint for living a good life. He carefully perfected and studied this list and then tried to work on one of the items every day. In that sense, besides his other inventions, Franklin probably created the self-improvement book genre. He was the Tony Robbins of the eighteenth century. Nonetheless, I found this list rewarding and I thought that it might be an interesting exercise to reproduce it here. Thus, here are Benjamin Franklin’s virtues:
Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
Tolerate no uncleanliness in bodies, clothes or habitation.
Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
Rarely use venerybut for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness or injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
Imitate Jesus and Socrates.