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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Franklin's 13 subjects

I’ve been reading about Ben Franklin lately, and that even though he was a brilliant man in his own right, he was always trying to make himself a better, more successful person.

In his autobiography he wrote about how he had come up with thirteen subjects “that were necessary or desirable for him to acquire and try to master. In this way, he was able to go through his entire list in thirteen weeks, and repeat the process four times a year.”

That was a quote from Frank Bettger in “How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Sales.” Bettger wrote that if a man as successful as Ben Franklin had created a method of making his life better, then perhaps it would be wise for other people who wish to succeed in life to follow his plan, or develop an individual plan based on his.

Franklin’s thirteen subjects:
  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 you 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 harmful deceits; think innocently & justly, and if you speak, speak accordingly.

  8. Moderation: Avoid extremes; further resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

  9. Justice: Wrong none by doing injuries, or emitting the benefits that aren't your duty.’

  10. Cleanliness: Tolerate no unseemliness 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 our own or another’s peace or reputation.

  13. Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

He admitted that he had occasions where he failed at these, but would always make himself aware of his fault, and attempt to come up with a method as to prevent himself from repeating them. For one thing, he was overweight, and that in itself probably led to his health failings later in his life, like his gout.

Then again, nobody is perfect.

And while he was a great speaker, ambassador, scientist and writer, he admitted he was a failure at family. His wife never left him, but he was never a good husband. And while he started writing his autobiography to his son, he had disowned him before he wrote the second half, which is why the second part of his autobiography is not written to his son.

If I were to make my own list, it would probably be similar to his. Even though something like “cleanliness” is easier to accomplish now-a-days, there are still plenty of people who don’t do it. Unfortunately I meet enough of them at my work.

The one I work on most is “Silence.” Not that I talk a lot, but I certainly don’t want to say something stupid. Or, better yet, if you don’t say something you can’t get into trouble. Like, if you’re not talking, then you can’t be complaining about your work.

If I were to add to his list, I’d add “Happiness.” Don’t get upset over trifles, and be happy with your lot in life. Don’t complain about what you have.

I like this one because I hate it when people complain, so I figure I best not do so myself. Besides, if I ever want to move up the ladder, nobody is ever going to hire me if I’m complaining all the time.

It was a famous person who wrote that “people who complain say more about themselves than they do about the person they are complaining about.”

I would add equanimity. You should always keep your cool, especially in times of crisis and others are not cool. When others yell, speak in a calm voice.

To frugality, I would add what my parents told me at the advent of the credit card era: save up your money and pay for things that way. When my dad lectured me about pennies I laughed. Now, I wish I had listened.

I like what Dave Ramsey wrote in his book “The Total Money Makeover Challenge.” He wrote: “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.” Or, to put it another way, it’s better to make sacrifices while you are fit, healthy and young, than wait until you are old.

Look around at your neighbors. How many of them have two cars, a new camper, two motorcycles, a boat and a new home. What happens to that person when he turns 55 and starts thinking about retirement, when he still has a house payment, two car payments, car insurance, a boat payment, boat insurance, a camper payment, camper insurance, and no retirement plan.

Don’t be that fool. I tell myself that all the time. I think of it every time I go to Dairy Queen or Applebees. I also think of it when I’m shoveling dirt and hand seeding my yard after every other person in my subdivision has paid out $3,000 or 4,000 a piece to have experts do their yards.

And, like Franklin, I have my lapses. The other day, for instance, I busted myself complaining at work. I realized later if I had simply walked away from my coworkers when they were complaining I would have avoided this slip.

I find that people like others more when they give the appearance of being happy and optimistic as compared to dark and gloomy. And I also find the presence of people with something intelligent to say as compared to those with only trifles to talk about.

I would also add “reading.” I think it’s important to read at least 15 minutes per day, and at least 30 minutes a week reading about history, geography, science, language, philosophy and the like. What better way to improve your lot in life than with knowledge.

Plus, through this knowledge, you cannot help but to speak better. And the better, more clearly you speak, the more prodigious vocabulary you have, the more intelligent words you use without even thinking about it, and the more intelligent you appear to others.

Maybe this will get you that promotion you always sought. Or, maybe it will get you a good job, period.

You can never lose with knowledge. Yet, you also need someone to share it with. I think, also, that it’s important to have at least one really intelligent person to share your knowledge with. I have my wife for starters, and a couple really smart brothers ( I won’t name them), and one or two brilliant friends at work. Not to mention two bright kids.

Ben Franklin wrote: “One of the philosophers, I think it was Plato, used to say, that he had rather be the veriest stupid block in nature, than the processor of all knowledge without some intelligent being to communicate it to.”

I would tend to agree. Even if the person I'm sharing wisdom with disagrees with me, it's still fun to do.

So, while most of Franklin's 13 subjects can still be effective today, perhaps we could come up some of our own subjects, and list them in the comments below.


Heidi said...

Thanks, I needed to read that this morning. I guess I've become unaware of some of the nasty little habits I've picked up along the way.

Anonymous said...

This was a good read, but I'd like to also note that to be successful, reading and practicing the wisdom in the book of Proverbs is necessary. I meant successful not in the context of financially, but just a person, and of course for those that are lovers of Jesus Christ/God.