I have been thinking about Ben Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues. When Franklin was in his twenties, he chose thirteen virtues he wanted to incorporate into his life , and then he kept track of his progress in a little notebook that he always kept with him. He only focused on one virtue at a time, and he gave himself a mark in his notebook whenever he slipped. If he could go a week without any marks in his notebook, he worked on the next virtue. After he had gone through his thirteen virtues, he started all over again, and ideally, with 52 weeks in the years, he would be able to focus on each virtue four times a year. He continued this cycle throughout his life, and he eventually mastered all thirteen of his virtues.
What is so remarkable about his journey is that this little notebook made him a different man. What do we think of when we think of Ben Franklin? We think of frugality. We think of industry. We think of moderation. He became his virtues. Once he had improved his character, changed himself from the inside-out, he lived a life of incredible accomplishment.
It’s character first. Achievement later.
I have started this little “virtue” journey myself. At first, the idea seemed kind of hokey. Being a religious person, I’ve always been taught good values, and it seemed redundant to reflect on values that I had always known. However, this process was really quite a transformation.
I spent time thinking about who I was and what I wanted to be. Some of my “virtues” are ones that I have always loved. For example, I have always loved learning (knowledge). However, studying often feels like an indulgence for a mother of five children. Ben Franklin helped me with this too. He was extremely busy raising a family and running his own printing press, yet he always gave himself about an hour a day for personal study. That accumulation of knowledge would serve him greatly as a scientist, ambassador, and Founding Father. So in a way, writing down some of the values I love gave me permission to live them more fully. I’m hoping to read a book a week. Even if I don’t accomplish it right away, I’m finding little pockets of time to study.
On the other hand, some of my virtues are virtues that have always been difficult for me. I have always struggled with diligence. (Hello ADHD). My biggest problem is that I lose faith in the project (or in myself), and I don’t think the project is worth pursuing anymore. Writing down “diligence” as one of my values makes me claim that virtue as my own. It is one that I can attain.
I have learned that one of the reasons “diligence” is hard is that I sometimes jump into a project without thinking about the full cost of the project. I need to determine the project’s value and decide whether it really is something worth sacrificing for. Praying about the project is important too. Once I’m given the green light, I have the confidence to keep working, even as it gets difficult, because it’s something worth fighting for.
What values do you have a natural affinity for?
What values are challenging for you?