Wednesday, April 05, 2006

BEN'S 13 VIRTUES--And mine

About 20 years ago, I read about Ben Franklin's famous effort to develop his character by working on the 13 virtues he considered most important. I was immediately enthralled by his system. It had charts! It had lists! It had Ben's endorsement! The way I figured it a guy who was so smart about the healthful properties of apples and the wonders of the lending library, had to know something about character development.

Immediately, I copied Ben's list into my notebook, imitating his weekly chart system. The idea was to work on one virtue a week, recording offenses against it, until you had cycled through all thirteen. Then, assuming perfection remained elusive, you began again.

The project turned out to be shortlived and sporadic like most of my runaway enthusiasms. (Undoubtedly, I needed--and still need-- more of what Ben called Resolution.) But every now and then I would return to the notebook and begin again--not on the virtue I was supposed to be working on because I quickly lost my place, but on the one I thought I needed most.

I doubt I became a better person. I'm not even sure Ben did, but then again, he was pretty amazing long before he began his personal self-improvement crusade. Only recently did I find my old notebook, complete with Ben's noble list and my incomplete charts. I think what amazed me was how "dated" many of his virtues sound now. Time may eventually bring them cycling back, just like Ben's 13 week program did, but not too many people want to hear about Temperance or Frugality or Chastity these days.

Anyway, I thought I'd give the 13 Virtue system a try again. Only this time I'll create my own list, reserving the right to borrow a few of my favorites from the master. And if any commenters or bloggers comes up with their own, I'll borrow from you, too. This is one case where even plagiarism is a virtue. Anyone care to join me? It could even be a meme: what are the 13 character traits you would most like to possess?

BEN'S 13:

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

And Mine:

1. Courage. Dare, do, and let nothing hold you back.
2. Equanimity
: Balance, confidence, and calm. Practice until it is your natural milieu.
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. Generosity: In material things, in words, in spirit.
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.
Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
9.Benevolence: Love always.
10. Optimism: Focus on what is good and beautiful.
11. Tranquility
: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
12. Discipline:
Resolution in action
13. Selflessness
: "If you want to be unhappy, think of yourself. If you want to be happy, think of others." It's as simple and enigmatic as that.


Sharon Hurlbut said...

Oh, I think kindness tops my list. To be a considerate, humane, sympathetic person is not hard. To do it consistently, everyday, in the face of a hectic world filled with anger and selfishness, is much more difficult.

I've just been rediscovering how amazing Ben Franklin was by reading a biography of him with my daughter. Truly a man worthy of emulating. Thanks for a thoughtful and stimulating post Patry!

Laini Taylor said...

Patry, I like your list much better than Ben's. You're right, it is dated. It has a "children should be seen and not heard" kind of quality to it. I agree Ben was an amazing guy, but I bet he was also a pill.

Crockhead said...

Did anyone besides me have to look up "venery?" I see the avoidance of it didn't make your list.

Cate said...

I had NO idea that, in addition to his other accomplishments, Ben Franklin was a forerunner in the self-help field!

From one "chart" and "list" lover to another, I must say that you have inspired me to begin my own complilation of virtues (though I relish the term "runaway enthusiasms!" and per my usual M.O., this could possibly fit that definition!). Chastity and frugality fall to the wayside . . . :)

Thank you for such a witty, fun post! Good luck in your pursuit and keep us updated!

robin andrea said...

Your list is much more interesting than Ben's. Although I am delighted to see that Ben was thinking about these things. What a guy!

I'd add kindness and compassion.

Buffy said...

My latest 'self help' attempt: I think I've found it.

1000 black lines said...

My latest "self-help" thing was to participate in Lent. I gave up two things I enjoy greatly.

As far as sharing a list of 13 ... I'll work on it ... I like this assignment.

Fred Garber said...

1. Thanking
2. Losing
3. Emptying
4. Breathing
5. Bending
6. Sensing
7. Cleaning
8. Laughing
9. Clowning
10. Serving
11. Stilling
12. Forgetting
13. Remembering

These are in no particular order.

rdl said...

I like your list better! Especially glad you ditched the first 2 since my Leo motto is probably, eat, drink, and make merry.

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MB said...

Is Anonymous picking up on the fact that Ben's Frugality didn't make it onto your list? ;-)

I'd have to have kindness and compassion in there (perhaps covered by your benevolence?), honesty (covered by your sincerity?), balance (covered by your equanimity and tranquility?), and gratitude. Where, I wonder, does taking care of one's health & spirit fit in... or is that implied by the whole?

Anonymous said...

What a good idea! I wish you the best with fulfilling your thirteen. Just writing them down gets you partway there.

Anonymous said...

The problem with temperance, frugality, and chastity is that you might not get another chance.

Lori Witzel said...

I think (since I woke up from fitful dreams) that I'll try a different take on the 13 and make up 5 anti-virtues -- qualities not commonly thought of virtues which I'd like to possess for one day:
1. Blurtitude -- the ability to say whatever comes into one's head without filtering.
2. Raucousness -- untrammeled exuberance, loudness, wildness.
3. Vocal talent -- powerful gifts of singing, mimicry, yodeling talent.
4. Cartwheelishness -- the ability to walk on my hands and do cartwheels.
5. Anti-mosquitoness -- rather than attracting mosquitos, I'd like to somehow repel them.

Anyway, sorry for the silly post, but that's what a lack of sleep can do. And thanks for stopping by my wild dino post earlier!

Anonymous said...

Ol' Ben was pretty darn enlightened...I think his list holds up pretty well. Love that you used it for inspiration to create your own...think he'd be tickled that his list can still inspire in 2006. :)

Dale said...

My big one (which is implicit of course in many if not all of yours) is mindfulness -- attending to what's actually in front of me at any given time. It's remarkable how little of that I do: I spend most my time fretting about some imagined futures or longing for other imagined futures. And most of the rest of the time I'm anxiously or lovingly reviewing the past.

Maybe it's a sort of meta-virtue: I can't even begin to practice any other virtue without attending to what's here now.

Sky said...

Patry, what an interesting post. Actually, I think your list is perfect - all bases of interest to me are covered among the categories you list. Lists can help us keep in mind work and goals that are before us. A list like this would be a good thing to post inside our closets for an early morning reminder of where we hope to take our lives each day.

Patry Francis said...

sharon: you're right; kindness definitely belongs on the list. Maybe we need 14 virtues...

laini: Hmmm...I never thought about what he would have been like to live with. Was he married?

amishlaw: All the times I've read the list, and I just glided right past the word "venery" never having a clue what it meant.

cate: hope your enthusiasm doesn't escape before you make your list. I'd love to see it!

r.d.: Maybe I thought kindness and compassion came under the general heading of benevolence, but they are both so important.

buffy: Come back and tell me how it goes--or even better, I will seek you out.

mx: Fasting and sacrifice are something that are unfashionable now--maybe like Ben's frugality and temperence. But they definitely still have something to teach us.
I'll be checking your blog to learn more...

fred: that's one wonderful list. I think it should be a poem.

r: Yes, but I don't have to work on those; they come naturally.

mb: Yes, I definitely think that spiritual nurture and health (as much as we are able to control that) are by products of the list. Don't you?

Caryn: You're right. Writing them down is step 1. Thanks for your visit and your comment!

pohanginapete: Hmmm...good point.

lori: love your silly virtues. maybe ben could have used a few of those in between his thirteen cycles. My favorite: blurtitude--though I could get in trouble with that one.

marilyn: I wouldn't be surprised if even some of those dated virtues came back, and sooner than we think. frugality, for instance, is another form of conservation.

dale: I agree that without mindfulness the other virtues are impossible. How can I remain in a state of benevolence, for instance, if I'm not mindful. My naturally selfish and prickly mind will take over. I like the idea of meta-virtues. Maybe that would be another--and much shorter list.

sky: Actually, I used to have a yellowed copy of Ben's list just inside the kitchen cabinet.

finnegan said...

Funny how you mention Uncle Ben's Frugality being one of the somewhat dated virtues.

On the contrary, with resources dwindling at a rapid rate, I believe he was rather prophetic with that one.

Frugality may be "dated" to most modern Americans, (who tend to extreme forms of gluttony) but not for very long.

Check out these James Howard Kunstler videos

Melly said...

Oh, what fun!
But I'll have to think about it first. I just can't come up with it off the top of my head.

Patry Francis said...

Finn: I absolutely agree with you about frugality--and moderation, as well. If they've become unfashionable, it's through foolishness and greed--which we will all pay for at some point. I should have left it on the list. Mea culpa. Any true virtue is timeless and stewardship of resources has never been more important.

I'm also a fan of Kunstler--both the books and his blog. Thanks for the link.

Melly: Glad you want to play!

Anonymous said...

Oh! I hadn't even thought of making up my own list. Ben is such an amazing person to me, all the things he put into motion that still exist today almost the way he implemented them.

I keep a history blog and here are some of the posts I've written about Franklin

Alex S said...

Can I have 26 virtues? I really liked both of yours. Its important to stop I think and do such exercises, to see okay, what are the virtues I claim to live by vs. what are the ones I'm actually living by, and then which are the ones I really do want to live in more holistic alignment with? I had never heard this about Ben Franklin before. I'm going to journal about this this very night- (& thank you for dropping in at my blog. I have so missed you too!) xo

chosha said...

Good lists both. I agree with Steven Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) that self-improvement used to be value-based and is now personality-based and that this is a change for the worst. I think Ben’s wording is dated, but not his values. I do have a comment on one you both featured though:
“Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.”
Don’t forget that rest/leisure serves a useful purpose, and that time spent pondering on information can be as important as the time spent taking the information in.

Patry Francis said...

stephanie: thanks for the comment and for your link to your history blog. Lots of interesting stuff there.

alexandra g: Hope you'll share some of that journaling when you get back on line! And hope it will be soon.

chosha: thanks for such a thoughtful comment. Covey's theory is interesting--and I think accurate. I also agree with you that time to dream is necessary. My problem is that I can easily spend my whole day that way. I think that's why Ben's injunction to keep busy is so appealing to me.

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