I have always thought of Benjamin Franklin as something of an anomaly among the founding fathers. The essential (ie. well-known) founding fathers are all associated first and foremost with politics. On the other hand, the name “Benjamin Franklin” brings to mind pictures of the enthusiastic inventor who ventured into dark storm, armed with only kite and key; images of the bespeckled (bifocaled?) intellectual behind America’s public libraries. Of course, one also imagines him surrounded by the other founding fathers, quill at the ready, engaging in political debates and such. But no image is truer or more natural than that of the mad, old scientist, trudging thoughtlessly into an oncoming storm. Emphasis on “old.” Not in any of my mental images of Franklin is he less than 40 years old. And indeed, is it hard to attach the storied name of Franklin to any musings of a precocious teenaged writer or popular print shop owner. One almost feels as if Franklin sprung from the womb a wise old man. But of course, as I have so recently learned, this is not the case. When he was around my own age, Benjamin Franklin conceived his 13 virtues for moral perfection; a concept so idealistic I would deem it youth’s folly had Franklin not gone on following it for the rest of his life. While I’m not sure I believe in total moral perfection or moral perfection through one definitive, unchanging code, I do believe in self-improvement. Thus, with this blog, I will follow Franklin’s example and attempt to follow a list of 5 virtues in the interest of self-growth.
I would like to follow the virtues of tranquillity, industry, cleanliness, creative productivity, and physical health. All but creative productivity and physical health are taken from Franklin’s list. Tranquillity focuses on not getting upset over unimportant things or letting accidents of the unavoidable or common variety consume one’s thoughts. I often let myself get upset over unimportant or even imagined problems and I feel I would be significantly happier if I learned to avoid this habit, hence tranquillity. I will enact tranquillity by attempting to catch myself at the start of negative reflection and think instead of my successes and plans for the future. Perhaps I will invent a mantra. The virtue of industry concerns avoiding unnecessary actions and spending one’s time doing useful things. I feel like I often get distracted by scrolling through my phone or something equally pointless when reading or writing would be much more productive and enjoyable. In order to promote industry in my life, I will attempt to have a book on my person at all times and also stop and ask myself if what I’m doing is really necessary whenever I take out my phone. Cleanliness centers around personal hygiene and keeping one’s living area clean. My primary living area (bedroom) is arguably the messiest it’s ever been. I will follow this virtue by cleaning and maintaining it. Creative productivity (a virtue of my own devising) is essentially creative completion. I have several unfinished projects that I just keep on poking away at, rather than officially finishing and doing something with. I have no sense of discipline and write only when experiencing a burst of inspiration. I also avoid writing things that I need to and want to write because of the mentally grueling nature of creative writing. In keeping with this virtue, I want to find time to write at least once a week and have two finished products by the end of this blog experiment. I also would like to work on the virtue of physical health. To be honest, I’m worried about my health and the unseen consequences my lifestyle may have. I generally eat poorly and rarely get any kind of physical exercise. I also listen to music at a thundering volume, so I’m fairly certain that my hearing is permanently doomed. I want to pay more attention to and conscientiously make good decisions for my health.
I hope that by following these virtues I can make progress on some of the things that have been cluttering up my life for a while. I want to genuinely move forward and progress as a person, or, at the very least, finish some poems and clean my room. Idealism (in some form or another) is said to be a hallmark of youth, and idealism is all that I can see in young Ben Franklin’s attempt to reach moral perfection. However, the fact that he kept up this struggle his whole life says something interesting. I doubt that Franklin found any kind of long-lasting moral perfection through his virtues, but perhaps it was in the pursuit of perfection that he found satisfaction. Perhaps through his virtues, Franklin hit on an important truth: it is more important that we strive to meet our lofty ideals than whether or not we actually meet them. More important that we have ideals at all, that we move into the future, not blindly, but with our eyes open.