In his book The Art of Virtue, Ben Franklin writes the following:
“We stand at the crossroads, each minute, each hour, each day, making choices. We choose the thoughts we allow ourselves to think, the passions we allow ourselves to feel, and the actions we allow ourselves to perform. Each choice is made in the context of whatever value system we have selected to govern our lives. In selecting that value system, we are, in a very real way, making the most important choice we will ever make.”
This speaks to my heart and affirms the essence of what led me to join a Ben Franklin Circle in Asheville this past September: shared values. Hoping to connect with other kindred souls, I walked into that first meeting filled with hope.
Not knowing what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised when all the chairs in the small meeting room filled up. Ty, our facilitator, showed us the Ben Franklin Circle video and then we introduced ourselves. The topic was temperance. As we delved into the topic, a recent conversation I’d had with a friend popped into my mind. We’d both been reading Charles Eisenstein’s book Sacred Economics, and were deeply passionate about many of the ideas he shared, specifically his ideas related to the gifting economy.
I made a comment to my friend that if someone had five winter coats in his closet, it would make sense for him to give some of them away to people who needed them, rather than keep them.
I decided to share this conversation with our group.
Eventually, Allen, a Circle member who was sitting across the table from me, said he had some coats in storage that he wanted to give away. He seemed genuinely inspired by my story.
At the next meeting, as we were settling into our seats, Allen surprised us when he arrived with a box of coats in his arms. I was expecting him to tell us that he’d gotten the coats out of storage and donated them to the Goodwill. Instead, he’d decided that our group needed to be part of the process of giving them away. As Allen finally revealed, this wasn’t just for the group’s benefit, it was, in part, because Allen had forgotten which coats were in the box, and he was afraid that he would become sentimental once he saw them and change his mind. Opening the box in front of the group would make him stick to his commitment to give the coats away.
As Allen pulled the packing tape from the box, his reaction to the coats revealed that they did, in fact, have a pull on him. He briefly reminisced about each one and then asked the members of the group who would like to take one and give it away. Four of us agreed, and it was decided that we would share our experiences giving away the coats at our third meeting.
I took an olive green, London Fog, winter coat. It would have been easy for me to simply drop it off at the Goodwill. But I decided not to do that. Instead, I put it temporarily in my garage. I needed time to decide who to give it to.
On a warm afternoon a few days later, my lawn guy, Jon, came to do some yard work. Jon had been cutting my lawn since he found my ad on Craigslist this summer proposing a trade of services. Jon needed some marketing help, and I needed someone to mow the lawn—so I made him some flyers and crafted him some well-written Craigslist ads in exchange for his work. Jon, a hard worker with a wife and two kids, has no money to spare for nice coats. As he was packing up to leave for the day, I knew I had to give him the coat. He tried it on and gave me a big smile. Everything was as it should be.
I shared this story at our third meeting. Another member, Greta, shared that she gave the coat to a homeless woman standing outside of a local Asheville music venue. Walking by the lady on her way to lunch, Greta heard her saying she was cold, so she turned around and ran to her car to get the coat. The woman told her she’d been on the streets for a week and a half having escaped a domestic violence situation.
Rick and Ty gave the other two coats to the Salvation Army. Both were inspired, as were Rick’s parents, to also give away some of their own belongings.
What began as a conversation with a friend evolved into generosity in action through our Ben Franklin Circle. It wasn’t planned, but happened spontaneously through the context of talking about the virtues. All of us in the group were touched by this experience, especially when we learned that it had a ripple effect and inspired others to also give. It inspired me to go even a step further and start another Ben Franklin Circle in my small community of Weaverville, NC.
I think Franklin would be pleased. “Since the foundation of all happiness is thinking rightly,” he wrote, “and since correct action is dependent on correct opinion, we cannot be too careful in choosing the value system we allow to govern our thoughts and actions.”
Victoria Fann is a writer, transformational coach, group facilitator and workshop leader. She’s excited to host her own Ben Franklin Circle beginning this month.