From being a son of a soap maker to one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, Benjamin Franklin was a book lover and a lifelong learner. Throughout his autobiography, you came upon one story after another, illustrating how he continuously sought out opportunities to gain new knowledge and acquire new skills. As a result, his achievements were numerous. However, the most important transformation of his life was when he discovered that changes come from within. Ben carefully thought about and selected 13 virtues that he would practice. He wrote:
“My intention being to acquire the habitude of all these virtues, I judged it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time, and, when I should be master of that, then to proceed to another, and so on, till I should have gone thro’ the thirteen; and, as the previous acquisition of some might facilitate the acquisition of certain others, I arranged them with that view,…
These names of virtues, with their precepts were:
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.
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, i.e., 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 you speak, 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 at 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.“ – Benjamin Franklin
In order to practice these virtues, Ben came up with a system:
“Conceiving, then, that, agreeably to the advice of Pythagoras in his Garden Verses, daily examination would be necessary, I contrived the following method for conducting that examination.
I made a little book, in which I allotted a page for each of the virtues. I ruled each page with red ink, so as to have seven columns, one for each day of the week, marking each column with a letter for the day. I crossed these columns with thirteen red lines, marking the beginning of each line with the first letter of one of the virtues, on which line, and in its proper column, I might mark, by a little black spot, every fault I found upon examination to have been committed respecting that virtue upon that day.” – Benjamin Franklin
Years ago, when I came across this passage, I was looking for personal growth books. Most of the books I found include quick fixes and tactics, and there were a lot of them. Feeling the quick fixes and tactics are too superficial and non-lasting, I thought to myself – there must be some core solid beliefs that are timeless. I’m looking for the core beliefs that would serve as the deep root of a tree, helping it stand strong in heavy winds and stormy weather. I’m looking for the core beliefs that I can always go back to in order to make difficult decision and to differentiate between right and wrong even in the most murky situations. That’s when I came across Benjamin’s way of pursuing the virtues above. His story inspired me to come up with my core beliefs:
- Love: I treat others with love and appreciate all relationships in my life.
- Humility: This is the greatest virtue, because everything I own and all the talents I have is a gift from God. Whatever I have will be left behind once I pass away. If I can’t do my part to help others and to make this world a better place, I haven’t earned my keeping.
- Positivity: If we look hard enough, we would find that life is beautiful and there are many blessings around. The way to win is to look for the positive side of things.
- Courage: Courage is not the absence of fear, but is the choice to do the right things despite being afraid.
- Perseverance: As the flow of water creates the majestic scene of the Grand Canyon, with perseverance, a person can achieve great successes.
Since the date I selected and aspired to follow those 5 virtues for myself, I didn’t come up with a chart system and examine myself daily like Benjamin. However, I reviewed them frequently. Especially, whenever I’m in a hot spot or a difficult situation, I would review them again. These virtues helped steer my thoughts and actions in many situations.
In a fast moving society where we almost never stop to reflect, where we are bombarded with cycles of bad news and uncertainties, where sometimes people forgot to be kind to one another, it is good to have a set of core beliefs that can help you stay calm and make good decisions. Like a tree is always connected to its root to help it stand strong in stormy weather, you can always come back to your core beliefs to weather any turbulence in life.
Do you have a set of core beliefs or virtues that can hold you up during challenging times?