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Lloyd Waters: Resolutions for 2012? Try Ben Franklin's list

January 01, 2012|By LLOYD WATERS

Now I’m not much on making New Year’s resolutions, but I do attempt to make each new day a little better than yesterday.

One of my favorite people from history is Ben Franklin.  He was indeed a unique individual who died at the age of 84 and was perhaps the most interesting founding father of our country.

At the age of 20, Franklin had a desire to become a better individual and developed a list of 13 virtues that he would record in a small book he carried to track his progress. If he violated any one of the items he would place a small dot in the column next to that virtue.  

Franklin apparently had an earnest desire to improve his character and become a more virtuous man.  

I thought I might share his list with you in the event you needed some ideas on improving your own character in 2012.

The 13 virtues that were included on Franklin’s list are provided as follows:

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

2. 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.

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.

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.

On a rotating basis, Old Ben would select one specific virtue to concentrate on weekly.  He would then focus on that virtue during the week while also noting his daily progress on the remaining virtues.  

Perhaps Franklin’s simple approach in developing his character and striving to become a better person gave him the foundation to achieve all the great things he did for our country.

Instead of making my own resolutions this year, I am giving some thought to following Ben Franklin’s program.

Moral perfection was certainly unattainable for Ben Franklin, just as it would be for you and me, but I believe his attempts to better himself, nonetheless, represents an  effort that probably sustained him well  throughout his life.  

I wondered, too, how our country might benefit if this approach was taught in our schools and embraced by every citizen and our elected officials of today.  

Several of these virtues will surely present some challenges for an old Dargan boy, but just maybe, I might manage to identify some weaknesses and become a better person in 2012.

How did Ben Franklin fair in his efforts to achieve moral perfection?

By examining recorded history, we might conclude that he had some difficulties on occasion but he also had many successes.  

What was Ben’s own evaluation?

Franklin summed up his progress with the following remark:

“Tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.”

If my own results are as good as old Ben’s, I just might be a little better off myself ... besides, a little virtue never hurt anyone.

Lloyd “Pete” Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes columns for The Herald-Mail.

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