Book of Galatians · do something · faith · identity

Cultivating Character with Ben Franklin

I can’t remember exactly what I was reading the other day, (a book often leads to an article which leads to a blog which leads to another book…sort of a common hazard among us ADD’s. Anyhoo….) but at some point a reference was made to Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues. It gave a brief description, and I was fascinated, so I had to find out more. After a very quick search I learned the following from Wikipedia:

Franklin sought to cultivate his character by a plan of 13 virtues, which he developed at age 20 (in 1726) and continued to practice in some form for the rest of his life. His autobiography lists his 13 virtues as:

  • “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 employ’d 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 uncleanliness in body, cloaths, 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.”

Franklin did not try to work on them all at once. Instead, he would work on one and only one each week “leaving all others to their ordinary chance”. While Franklin did not live completely by his virtues and by his own admission, he fell short of them many times, he believed the attempt made him a better man contributing greatly to his success and happiness, which is why in his autobiography, he devoted more pages to this plan than to any other single point; in his autobiography Franklin wrote, “I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.”

Um…first of all, at 20 years old he “sought to cultivate his character” so he made a list of the highest virtues he could think of, then briefly defined them, and created a plan to follow them in order to have descendants that someday followed his example??

WHOA. I don’t know what you were doing when you were 20 years old, but I think I was probably just trying to cultivate enough dough to pay my rent and keep gas in my car. I was barely worried about my character (which explains a whole lot if you knew me back then.)

I have read over this list of Franklin’s 13 Virtues several times in the past week or so. I have been very inspired by it. I wondered how it might benefit me, as well as the world around me, if I took time to intentionally cultivate (or on some days, even bother to pay attention to) my own character as he did. How would it help bring to light things that I need to work on? How would it show me the ways that God’s gifts are already being used well through me? And what would be on my list of virtues to use as a measuring stick?

As a person of faith in Jesus Christ, my list is really already figured out for me. We already have a list of virtues to live by…they’re more commonly referred to in scripture as the fruit of the spirit. They are not just virtues that we should aspire to; they are actually the evidence that we’re growing more Christ-like every day.

I have an experiment in mind. Not even sure if that’s the best word for it. Maybe more like a 9-week devotional journey. What if we took this list of 9 fruits of the spirit, briefly sketched out what those look like to us in everyday life, and focused on cultivating one of them in our lives each week? Not a lot of work or hype, just focus and notice. I’d almost bet that some cool stuff would happen right in front of us.

I’ll be starting this next week. I’ve already had a couple of crazy chicks I know say they’re on board with it too. We can share our thoughts, progress, and shortcomings through the journey. Anyone else care to join us?

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