Do you love life? Then do not squander time, for that’s the stuff life is made of. – Benjamin Franklin, 1746
For this months inspiration I chose Benjamin Franklin, an old white dude.
And no, I am not kidding.
To be fair, he is pretty iconic and not as controversial as some of his contemporaries.
I know that collectively we are a little over advice from ‘historic old whities’. That said, way back when, in 2015 when I conceived of this blog, I was inspired, at least partly – but not exclusively, by Benjamin Franklin.
Like most of our favorite historical figures, Franklin is a flawed but idolized man, especially in the United States. At this point, I forget where I first read about Franklin’s ideas about habits, probably in college as I learned about American history, the subject I thought I would eventually teach – in America. Or even just growing up reading modern versions of Poor Richard’s Almanack. Yet, where ever I first heard of them, I do recall being immediately intrigued by Franklin’s ideas surrounding habits, or virtues.
Who is this guy?
Well, he is on American 100 dollar bill.
Franklin, if you are unaware was a very accomplished man of his time. He is historically considered ‘The First American‘ for his early efforts and drive for a colony independent of the British Empire. Franklin is perhaps most famously known as one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and next as a polymath, who has a vast swath of knowledge across multiple subjects and specialties. These pursuits include political philosopher, politician, humorist, civic activist, postmaster, scientist, inventor, writer, editor, founder, diplomat, and printer.
Franklin is so oddly interesting having lived such a varied life. He was legally indentured to his brother’s American print business at the age of 12 through his 21st birthday. While bound to his brother Franklin attempted to convince his brother to let him write, which the brother refused. Franklin secretly posed as a middle-aged widow (yes, not widower folks) and wrote fourteen editorials as the said widow before he came clean to his brother about his secret. He was also a French fashion icon for a time.
When he was young, Franklin was known to have a passionate temper which often alienated friends and colleagues. It was for this reason he determined to work on himself. After investigations and contemplations, Franklin settled on the best course of action for himself was to concentrate on one trait at a time, for one week at a time, rather than everything contemporaneously.
He chose thirteen traits to focus on, including temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquillity, chastity and humility. He focused on one of these virtues for a week at a time, starting the cycle over every time he finished the thirteen traits, thus fitting this schedule into a whole year. “In his autobiography, he said that he felt that his greatest contribution to posterity, and the one that he wished most fervently his progeny would heed, was his system for self-mastery.” From What teachers can learn from Benjamin Franklin.
Of course, in spite of all Franklin accomplished in his life, he was still human and therefore imperfect. He often did not succeed in mastering his virtues, but the fact that he simply tried is something to admire. This is where I am reminded of the benefits of self-reflection and self-mastery. It isn’t always to be the kings or queens of our own selves or our worlds, but to simply be better than we were yesterday. Sometimes that is a feat unto itself.
What you do every day is more important than what you do every once in a while.
One. Day. At. A. Time.
Here are a few resources to learn more about Franklin’s life, his habit-practicing process, and other interesting facts: This video by Thomas Frank. Also, if you are so inclined, there is a plethora of primary source documents related to Franklin at DocsTeach.org from the National Archives.
Did you know these facts about Benjamin Franklin? What is your Benjamin Franklin fact or quote?
Who or what inspires you to be better? I would love to know so I could learn too. Let me know in the comments.