What Would Ben Franklin do?

I thought it might be helpful revisiting one of the most respected and accomplished men in U.S. history, Benjamin Franklin's list of 13 virtues (I've also added my "modern" translation after each for clarity purposes):

  1. Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

    Modern translation: Small portions and no second helpings at the dinner table pay off big time. Don't drink to get drunk.

  2. Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself: avoid trifling conversation.

    Modern translation: If you don't have anything nice to say, keep it to yourself. And avoid gossip.

  3. Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.

    Modern translation: Know when to focus on work and when to focus on play.

  4. Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

    Modern translation: Be persistent and always follow through.

  5. Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. waste nothing.

    Modern translation: Manage your money wisely. As Ben Franklin once said, "Beware of little expenses. A small leak will sink a great ship."

  6. Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

    Modern translation: Don't waste time. Be productive at everything you do.

  7. Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

    Modern translation: Always tell the truth.

  8. Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

    Modern translation: Treat others like you'd like them to treat you.

  9. Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

    Modern Translation: Take everything in moderation. And if someone does you wrong, don't retaliate --- at least not as much as you'd like to.

  10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.

    Modern translation: Use soap, laundry detergent, trim your nose hair and pick up after yourself.

  11. Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

    Modern translation: Don't sweat the small stuff. And don't worry about things you cannot control or change.

  12. Chastity: Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.

    Modern translation: At the risk of not being modern I'll quote the Book of Ecclesiastes and Pete Seeger: "To everything turn, turn, turn … a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing."

  13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

    Modern translation: Two pretty good role models.

Franklin apparently placed each one of these virtues/values on a separate page in a small book and evaluated his performance in regard to each on a daily basis.

Although he was not entirely successful – he enjoyed his food and was quite the womanizer when he put his mind to it – his intentions were good.

And if those thirteen aren't enough, here are seven more, compliments of best-selling author Michael Masterson:

  1. Pay less attention to yourself and more attention to other people.
  2. Focus on opportunities, not problems.
  3. Listen first, talk later.
  4. Criticize only when your criticism is helpful.
  5. Never speak badly about anyone.
  6. Never complain about anything.
  7. Perform an act of kindness every day.

I'd like to invite you read an article published on AWAI's site in July of 2006. It was the first article I'd ever written for AWAI. It deals with the importance of thinking positive and setting goals. You can read it by clicking here.

I must note that like many successful writers will often tell you, looking back I’ve really grown as a writer. So if you’re just starting out, know that wherever you are today, no matter how good or bad you think you are, you will ALWAYS be better in the future.

Of course, that’s assuming that you keep writing between now and then. Because nothing will make you a better and more confident writer than practice and experience.

I've really enjoyed my time with you this week.

If there's a subject you'd like me to focus on the next time I get to contribute to The Writer's Life, please post in the comment section below.

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Published: February 11, 2011

4 Responses to “What Would Ben Franklin do?”

  1. John,

    Thank you for a terrific article.

    Do you want to know my take on the issue?

    Get into the rythm of a daily routine. Follow your schedule with passion.

    Discipline yourself so that you are not a victim of your moods, but a creature of habit.

    For example, John Grisham made it a point to wake up early in the morning.

    Then, he would write one or two hours every day before departing for his office (he is a lawyer by training).

    His books have become best-sellers and he is a wealthy man.

    Archan MehtaMay 17, 2011 at 5:29 am

  2. Ben Franklin's way of putting it I find rather better than yours. Any plans on doing an Iliad interpretation for us?

    Guest (Bart van Herk)September 4, 2013 at 3:24 am

  3. Nice article. It's good to reflect on such ideas from time to time and determine if we are being productive and being the type of person each of us would ideally like to be.

    Paul CarverFebruary 17, 2014 at 8:24 pm


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