BY SARAH GOODWIN THIEL
Post originally published by the Harwood Institute https://theharwoodinstitute.org/news/2018/7/5/calling-our-best-selves
When one lives in the DC Metro area, the founding fathers are never far away. You see them everywhere – universities and institutes are named after them; books by and about them grace shop windows; they are memorialized at every turn – their likenesses found in statues, their words engraved on walls and plaques. And now, as in the case of Ben Franklin, groups of people are gathering monthly to discuss their ideas. Ben Franklin Circles are not unique to Washington DC but I was unaware of them before arriving here. Following the book club format, with good food and lively conversation, these circles bring people together to discuss BF’s 13 Virtues, considered and documented by Franklin when he was just 20 years old. At this writing, I have engaged with only four of Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues. My friend and I joined another friend’s neighborhood Ben Franklin Circle on month #5 where we had a rousing discussion of frugality and were left looking at the concept in new and different ways.
Since then, in our monthly discussions of the virtues, we have each shared and discussed our varied views of the concepts and we have done our best to make sense of BF’s definitions. Our conversations cover a lot of ground, we move between confidence and vulnerability as BF calls us to live purposefully and responsibly. His focus is not on doing the “right” thing but on doing all things thoughtfully and with intention. He asks us to be mindful of our own gifts, our own privilege and to make sound decisions that do no harm to others – or to ourselves. Each month, Ben Franklin slips into our lives to remind us
to be our best selves.
Imagine if we were all to do that. It stands to reason that together our efforts would be strengthened and our impact far greater. But that kind of intentionality begs for brutal honesty, discipline, self-awareness and a sincere belief in personal responsibility. And that’s the catch, right? How many of us have all these things? Or the wherewithal to practice them, if we do? Ben Franklin surely knew this. He knew from his own experience that living a “virtuous” life, as he defined it, would not come as second nature but would require practice. Franklin’s virtues must be repeated, they need to be considered regularly and practiced daily.
I have to say that in just four months, I find myself looking at things very differently. I am determined, with BF’s virtues in mind, and with lots of practice, to put my best self forward. To use my resources and my privilege to benefit others as well as myself. I will soon be leaving the Metro area and will no longer see the founding fathers every day but I go with a new aspiration to live thoughtfully and with intention – and I have Ben Franklin to thank for that.
Ben Franklin’s 13 Virtues
- 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 uncleanness 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.
Sarah Goodwin Thiel is a Studio Associate at the Harwood Institute for Public Innovation in DC, where she is a member of a Ben Franklin Circle.