Benjamin Franklin might be the most important of the Founding Fathers. His steady hand and silence shouted more than hours of oratory. When younger minds became heated at the Constitutional Convention, Franklin sat quietly until it was obvious the attendees were at an impasse. Franklin, silent during most of the proceedings, suggested a break. Gently, he spoke with several delegates during the pause in the debate. Cooler minds returned and a nation was formed. It is fair to say the United States of America owes its existence to the virtues of a single man.
Ben Franklin knew he was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. As a young man he set out to make himself a better person. He learned and shared sage advice still relevant today. At the core he listed 13 virtues he felt were important to master. They provided the formula for happiness, wealth and success.
Long before the modern FIRE (financial independence/retire early) movement, there was Benjamin Franklin. I learned from Franklin that retirement is overrated if you find those things you love to do and keep a healthy level of curiosity in your life. Unhappiness breeds the desire for retirement.
Winning at life, in marriage, financially, in your health, spiritually and physically were covered by Franklin. It was simple to set up, yet difficult to follow. Franklin, fully aware of his shortcomings, listed the virtues he wanted to uphold. Then he held himself accountable each day; never beating himself up for failing, but gently encouraging improvement each and every day.
Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues
The best place to start is by listing the 13 virtues Franklin considered so vital. After this I will share a worksheet you can print and use for your Virtues Journal. Then I will share some of Franklin’s wisdom before finishing by sharing a program that provides the framework needed to maximize your study of these virtues.
Temperance: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
Order: Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time. (Author’s note: I take this to mean to stay focused on the task at hand. I doubt Ben would have been a fan of constantly checking email or smartphone.)
Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; waste nothing.
Industry: Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if speaking, speak accordingly.
Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
Moderation: Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
Tranquility: Be not disturbed by trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
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.
Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
It should be noted than Franklin fell short by his own admission most days. Temperance (drinking intoxicants) seemed to be a struggle.
The goal is not perfection; the goal is to be aware of weaknesses and improve consistently over time.
Now to track our progress.
Print out a page each week for your virtues journal. Place a dot under the day of the week and the virtue when you fail to live up to the virtue.
Example: If you spent money foolishly on Monday, place a dot in the Monday column on the frugality row. You can accumulate more than one dot is a day under one virtue.
In a short time you can visualize where you are coming up short and where work needs to be done. Remember, this isn’t to belittle yourself! This exercise clarifies where you need improvement. Make a conscious efforts to improve in weak areas. Always be vigilant. Knowing where you tend to stray is a powerful tool in slowing down the negative behavior.
Wisdom From Ben Franklin
Franklin is an endless source of common sense and wisdom. His autobiography is must-read material for anyone serious about building wealth. Much of this wisdom was shared in his annual publication of Poor Richard’s Almanack. For 27 years Franklin built upon a solid foundation of wisdom, giving us arguably the greatest source of information on living a good and happy life, and on building financial wealth.
A good example of this powerful writing is the essay in the 1758 edition (the last year Franklin published the almanack), and included in his autobiography: The Way to Wealth. It is hard to fathom this was published 350 years before contemporary bloggers, podcasters and financial gurus. Ben Franklin put all us moderns, with our word processors and auto-correct, to shame centuries ago with a simple pad of paper and pencil. We can only aspire to such greatness.
I’ll share a few financial (frugal) quotes here. If you want more I highly recommend Franklin’s autobiography and biography by Walter Isaacson.
Select quotes from The Way to Wealth:
Industry need not wish, and he who lives upon Hope will die fasting.
Keep thy Shop and thy Shop will keep thee; and again, If you would have your business done, go; if not, send.
If you would have a faithful Servant, and one that you like, serve yourself.
A little Neglect will breed great Mischief.
Buy what thou hast no Need of, and ere long thou shalt sell thy Necessities.
Beware of little expenses; A small Leak will sink a great ship.
The second Vice is Lying; the first is running in Debt.
Lying rides upon Debt’s Back.
Of course there is much more.
And when have you heard similar words in modern English? From Warren Buffett? Charlie Munger? Dave Ramsey? the Wealthy Accountant!
Every nugget of financial wisdom is as old as the ages. This stuff has been known for millennia. We keep repeating it generation after generation because nothing is less common than common sense.
That is why my work is never done. Every day another crowd of people struggle with financial issues and people like me try to spread the good word.
Benjamin Franklin Circles
It is easy to think Ben Franklin lived in a different time, a time alien to our modern world. In some ways this is true, but the differences are not as vast as you might think.
Franklin understood the value of quality conversation, where ideas were exchanged and knowledge grown. Franklin frequented salons, where people gathered, socialized and built grand ideas, like creating a nation like none other in history.
We can still meet in the same fashion. But, we also have the added advantage of virtual meetings. With Zoom we are no longer limited to those locally that can attend meetings.
There is a movement afoot that acts much like the salons of Europe and America in the early and mid eighteenth century. They are called Benjamin Franklin Circles. There are several ways to start your own circle. I’ll let you use the link to dig deeper into the topic.
The Franklin Circle can be a local gathering or virtual event. The group is a year commitment. Once per month the group gathers to discuss another of Franklin’s virtues and how to best build that virtue in ourselves.
The group can also enjoy the socializing and good conversation Franklin did in his day by extending the group into additional virtues and topics.
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel. The link above is a beginning point if you are interested in starting a Circle.
There are also numerous guides to help with the process. (The guides are also useful as personal study materials.) Here are a few guides with links. All can be downloaded and printed out.
Use these guides to step back in time and into the future.
It is impossible to give a proper review of Benjamin Franklin in a thousand words or so. Hyperlinks above expand the subject material greatly, and the two books mentioned and linked in the text do provide reasonable coverage of a remarkable man and his sage wisdom on health, living the good life and financial wealth.
I hope I whet your appetite enough to encourage a deeper drink from the well of knowledge Franklin brought us. You will find all successful people are, knowingly or not, using Franklin’s advice on some level as part of their success.
But more than that, these virtues can make us a better person. You don’t have to start a nation or build your financial empire as large as Charlie Munger’s to benefit from the time tested wisdom of Franklin. You do have to start taking accountability of yourself as Franklin did.
A small amount of progress each day compounds to a massive amount of knowledge and wealth of all kinds. It is simple, yet requires the simple action of taking the next step.
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