Circle Host Caroline Sayre and her Seattle-based Circle explore a new set of virtues.
My Seattle Ben Franklin Circle has now traveled through the arc of Franklin’s 13 virtues – from temperance to humility. Through our Circle conversations, we’ve explored how these virtues intersect with our lives and our society. We discussed homelessness in light of Ben Franklin’s definition of justice, “Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty,” and concluded that justice addressed our responsibility as community members to help people without homes. When we explored sincerity — described as “Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly”—we saw how sincerity spoke to communicating authentically and honestly but also sensibly and sensitively, an approach that seems in short order these days.
And now, our Circle is moving on to a new set of virtues – sourced from BFC Hosts around the country and compiled by 92nd Street Y staff. Our Circle was one that provided suggestions to include on the new list.
At the first meeting for the new virtues, we looked at them as a group and compared them to Ben Franklin’s 13. We liked all of the new virtues and we even added a few of our own: patience, acceptance, and neighborliness. We also changed “love of learning” to “openness.” As we explored the new set, we agreed they are all “soft,” meaning they don’t carry the same moral weight that Franklin’s did. Perhaps this sense of “softness” comes from the fact that the new virtues are more “feeling”-based than Ben Franklin’s original list. We agreed these new virtues are concepts that we learned as children and are having to relearn now as adults. In contrast, Ben Franklin’s virtues are clearly for adults, or so we thought, and came with a greater moral imperative.
This assessment partially stems from our group’s understanding that a “virtue” is behavior that reflects moral standards and has the goal of improving society. Values, on the other hand, don’t necessarily contain a moral aspect. You can value something and yet not attach any action to it. We also agreed that the new set is pointed at the modern world, and that many of these virtues might not have been considered virtues in Franklin’s time.
And so, as we set forth to discuss our next round of virtues, our challenge might be how to give the new set the moral “heft” that Franklin’s virtues carry. While both lists imply the desire to improve society, does the new set have a characteristic of “higher truth?” or “right living?” Are they compelling enough to practice outside of a meeting? I believe so – ALL of the new virtues seem to be so pertinent to society and yet often absent from society at the same time. And so moving forward, we plan to be hopeful and openminded – just like kids.
Caroline Sayre lives in Seattle, WA and spends her time teaching English as a Second Language in a variety of settings. She has lived in other places including Philadelphia and New York City, where she pursued a degree in Urban Planning at Columbia University and worked with homelessness and affordable housing. She hosts a Ben Franklin Circle and a garbage pick-up group in the neighborhood where she lives.