December 31, 2012

New Year’s Resolutions, Ben Franklin Style

Independence National Historical Park
Brandon Marie Miller

Happy New Year! Most of us begin this blank slate with vows to shed a few pounds, exercise more, get organized, or as one friend promises herself, to drink more water. We don’t really scrutinize our character flaws and vow to improve those. Fortunately Benjamin Franklin rides to our aid.

As a young man Franklin developed a system for “arriving at moral Perfection.” Shouldn’t be too tough, he figured. He felt he knew right from wrong: “I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other.”


Instead Franklin wrestled with his plan, reporting, “While my Care was employ’d in guarding against one Fault, I was often surpriz’d by another.” He also found himself, “much fuller of Faults than I had imagined….”

In a notebook Franklin listed thirteen virtues he hoped to gain, adding brief notes to clarify his goals. I’ve included a few of his clarifications below.
  1. Temperance in food and drink
  2. Silence (“Speak not but what may benefit others or your self. Avoid trifling Conversation.”)
  3. Order (“Let all your things have their Places.”)
  4. Resolution (“Resolve to perform what you ought.”)
  5. Frugality
  6. Industry
  7. Sincerity
  8. Justice
  9. Moderation
  10. Cleanliness
  11. Tranquility (“Be not disturbed at Trifles”)
  12. Chastity (“but for Health or Offspring…Never to…the Injury of your own or another’s Peace or Reputation”)
  13. Humility (“Imitate Jesus and Socrates”)
Franklin decided to tackle one virtue each week, repeating the process four times in a year. He prepared a chart and every night placed a dot against the virtues he’d failed to uphold that day. While Franklin found satisfaction seeing his faults diminish, the work proved hard.
Days of Week (top), Virtues (left)

He found Order “extreamly difficult to acquire” and was almost ready to “give up the Attempt, and content my self with a faulty Character in that respect.”
For Humility, “I cannot boast of much Success in acquiring the Reality of this Virtue,” he wrote, “but I had a good deal with regard to the Appearance of it.” He worked hard to listen and question, instead of rudely pointing out others faulty arguments.

Franklin felt pride—the flip side of humility-- hardest to subdue. “Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it,…it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself.”
And there was always the evil little twist, that even if he quelled his pride, the accomplishment paled because, “I should probably be proud of my Humility!”

What are your New Year’s Resolutions for 2013? If, like Franklin, you find yourself “fuller of faults” than you’d hoped, then join in. What are your specific goals? Draw a chart to track your progress. I know if I mastered even a single “virtue” in the coming year, my world, and the world around me, must surely become a happier place. Good luck!

7 comments:

  1. This is great! It's good to know Ben struggled to improve. It makes it easier for the rest of us to keep trying.

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    1. If only I could improve with the same wit and verve Franklin demonstrated!

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  2. Brandon, Love your post! Blessings in the New Year. Joan

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    1. Thanks, Joan. I appreciate it very much!

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  3. Great post! you can never go wrong resolving to drink more water! NAP

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    1. Had to include that one, NAP.

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    2. I don't know about that, NAP! If you actually achieve what you resolve, year after year, you'll eventually drown! Great post, Brandon! Franklin really was an amazing person.

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