Name: Henry Edwards
Hometown: Annandale, VA
Circle Start Date: January 2018
What do you do when you’re not running a Ben Franklin Circle?
I’m a book author, academic coach, and assistant instructor at the University of Pennsylvania in their Masters of Applied Positive Psychology program.
What attracted you to the Circles?
I’m part of a Circle in Washington, D.C., led by the amazing Emily Esfahani Smith. I started the one in Annandale (which is inside the Capital Beltway) because I wanted to spread the love to NoVa.
Tell us a little about the composition of your group. How did you find members (or how did they find you)?
The group consists of 12 people, all of whom I invited. It is 50/50 male and female by design. We range in age from our 30s to our 70s, and are quite diverse in our occupational backgrounds. We’re not as diverse in race and education, but these are priorities as we get new members. It is a “closed” group in the sense that I asked friends from different parts of my life, including work, church, and other groups I belong to. I currently host all the meetings, but hope to move to a model where hosting and facilitation of meetings rotates.
How has hosting a Ben Franklin Circle impacted you?
It has impacted me in many ways. First, I have thought more and more about virtue ethics. There are three great schools: duty ethics, consequential ethics, and virtue ethics. Kant searched for universal guidelines for always doing the right thing no matter what. Jeremy Bentham believed humans should do the most good for the most people. Virtue ethics comes from ancient Greece. Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and others sought to build better people, not better guidelines. If you want ethical outcomes, you need to create ethical people. While Greek philosophers disagreed on specifics, the idea is that ethical behavior is cultivated through cultivating virtue.
Ben Franklin was our foremost enlightenment exponent of virtue ethics. Today virtue ethics is back in vogue. I like Chris Peterson and Martin Seligman’s Character Strengths and Virtues because their taxonomy applies science to an ancient idea. Peterson and Seligman combed works of philosophy, literature, and popular culture to find virtues that transcend cultures. Their 24 Character Strengths and Virtues (called Values in Action, or VIAs) are the product of this work. At my D.C. Ben Franklin Circle, I facilitated a gathering about VIAs. Everyone took the VIA test before the group met and we discussed them in light of our experience with Franklin’s 13 virtues. I think this virtue ethics lens is eminently practical, just like Ben Franklin. In our Circle, we have a chance to put virtue ethics into action to improve our lives and make the world a better place.
Which virtue means the most to you personally and why?
Humility. I am not a humble person, so this one is great for me. I am happiest when I am a part of something bigger—like my Ben Franklin Circle. If I start to worry about my performance or future or place in the world, I’m thinking about me too much. My life has shown me that I have more than enough of all the good things. I need only access them—literally or through gratitude reflection—and I put myself and my life in perspective. So I need the most work on humility. It was a hard one for Franklin, too. I love that he had to add it as the 13th virtue because a Quaker friend basically told Franklin that he wasn’t humble. It’s great that Franklin admits this in his autobiography and added it to what were previously 12 virtues. He was willing to move from the elegant 12 to the inelegant 13 because humility was just too important. True for me too!
What is the last commitment you made to yourself? How’s it going?
Frugality. I gave up sugar for Lent, but noticed that I was still enjoying baked goods too much. So I’ve given up baked goods. I have been very successful, but notice that I am changing my eating habits for both good and ill. I’m finding I eat more non-bread starches, so that’s not great. But I am also craving sugar less, which I think is both from not eating sugar and from having fewer bread carbs. Regardless, I am building more self-control, which I need. I gave up smoking and drinking 25 years ago because I was addicted to them, My last vice is food. I don’t shoot for perfection, just progress. I want to live long and prosper, just like Ben!