The Virtues of Ben Franklin

Without continual growth and progress, such words as improvement, achievement, and success have no meaning.

-Benjamin Franklin

228 years before The Checklist Manifesto came into vogue, Ben Franklin used a simple checklist to remind himself of his duties. The goal was not unattainable perfection, an open admission of his own weakness and an attempt to improve his character. Some of his famous lines include:

Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

Never leave that till tomorrow which you can do today.

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.

[Make a transition to how this applies to my generation]

The attitude du jour tends to be moral flexibility and ambiguity. I see members of my generation believing in false profits, grasping for meaning, and making calamitous errors of judgment in the absence of a moral code.

I have come to appreciate keeping fewer, better ideas close at hand to remind me of what I should be focusing on, rather than running from one new thing to the next. I have recently tried to review these virtues from time to time with some success.

I’ve started keeping daily logs of my goals, outcomes, how I spend my time, and how I think to gradually refine and improve my way of being.

Here’s a list of Benjamin Franklin’s Virtues. Which others do you practice?

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 employed 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 extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
10. Cleanliness – Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
11. Tranquility – Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. Chastity – Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
13. Humility – Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

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