Benjamin Franklin at the age of 20 created a self-improvement project. He sought to cultivate his character by attempting to follow thirteen virtues. His autobiography lists his thirteen virtues:
1. “TEMPERANCE. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.”
This virtue reminds me of the Dalai Lama’s idea that the cause of human suffering is either in the excessive pursuit of pleasures or the excessive avoidance of pain.
2. “SILENCE. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.”
Benjamin Franklin wrote and spoke volumes. He seemed to benefit others quite a bit. I like adding this rule: listen to others at least twice as much as you speak.
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.”
Franklin was sent to France by congress to secure a desperately needed loan to support the American Revolutionary War. The French Prime minister, Count Vergennes ignored his request for a meeting. Franklin learned that Vergennes had a rare collection of books. He wrote to the Count asking to borrow one written by the French philosopher Voltaire. Vergennes lent him the volume, which Franklin returned a few weeks later with a letter of thanks. This correspondence not only broke the ice, but also appealed to Vergennes vanity. Before long, Franklin had secured the loan.
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.”
Franklin was never idle. Aside from all his other accomplishments he raised money for Philadelphia’s first libraries, police forces and fire companies.
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.”
Franklin was considered a master at consensus building. He advised Thomas Jefferson “never to engage in personalities”. Jefferson later wrote that he never heard Franklin directly contradict anyone. Franklin wrote, “The conversations I engaged in went more pleasantly. The modest way in which I proposed my opinions procured them a readier reception and less contradiction.”
10. “CLEANLINESS. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.”
11. “TRANQUILLITY. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”
Franklin didn’t let his critics upset him. He urged others to make full use of other peoples envy and gossip for self-improvement. We often interpret negative remarks as malicious. Franklin wrote, “Love your enemies, for they shall tell you all your faults!” He said, “The sting of gossip is the truth of it”.
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.”
When Franklin was a diplomat, he still introduced himself as Benjamin Franklin, a Printer. Adding contemporary people of which to imitate, I might include Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr., the Dalai Lama, Mother Theresa, and Barry Sanders.