The previous post introduced Benjamin Franklin as a person who epitomizes the power of the Philosophy for LYF. Through his contributions as a printer, an author, a scientist, an inventor, a statesman, a diplomat, and a Founding Father of the United States of America, Franklin performed actions that elevated himself and others. And he did so consistently throughout his life.
The previous post also highlighted his deep belief in the overarching core value of goodness. He would ask himself each morning, "What good shall I do this day?" And in the evening before bed, he would ask himself, "What good have I done to-day?"
We begin with the LRN deed of goodness and share examples of how he improved the goodness in himself and empowered the goodness in others.
Skill-building to improve himself
Although Franklin received less than three years of formal schooling between the ages of 8 and 10, he became one of the best known writers, inventors, and statesmen of his time. How? He took control of his own self-improvement and worked on it throughout his life.
Franklin was a voracious reader, tackling all manner of topics ranging from books on the Socratic method and philosophy to English grammar and arithmetic. In fact, by age 12, he was known for staying up reading for the greater part of the night. He practiced his writing skills by imitating texts he thought were well-written. Later, as an adult, he taught himself French, Italian, Spanish, and Latin, which gave him opportunities to read books that had not been translated into English. He even taught himself how to play the guitar, violin, and harp.
Goodness-building to improve himself
Franklin also worked specifically on improving his own goodness, or as he wrote, “the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection.” As such, he identified 13 virtues, such as temperance, sincerity, and justice, and gave them specific meanings. His intent was to make them habits. How did he expect to make them habits? Through daily inspection. He made a little book to track his progress. On each page of the book, he made seven columns, one for each day of the week, and thirteen rows, one for each of the virtues.
He focused on the first virtue (temperance: eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation) for the first week. Each evening he marked a little black spot for every fault he found upon examination of his life that day, with the hope that the number of black spots declined or were absent by the last day of the week. During the second week, he would focus on the first two virtues. By 13 weeks he would have completed a full course, which he could repeat four times in a year.
The personal benefits of his focus on improving his goodness were immeasurable as evidenced by his words at age 79:
“To Temperance he ascribes his long-continued health, and what is still left to him of a good constitution; to Industry and Frugality, the early easiness of his circumstances and acquisition of his fortune, with all that knowledge that enabled him to be a useful citizen, and obtained for him some degree of reputation among the learned; to Sincerity and Justice, the confidence of his country, and the honorable employs it conferred upon him; and to the joint influence of the whole mass of the virtues, even in the imperfect state he was able to acquire them, all that evenness of temper, and that cheerfulness in conversation, which makes his company still sought for, and agreeable even to his younger acquaintance.”
The "Junto" to improve himself and empower others
In 1727, barely 21 years old, Franklin founded a small club in Philadelphia called the “Junto” with the sole purpose of mutual improvement among its members. His club rules required every member to present questions related to morals, politics, and natural philosophy that would be discussed during Friday evening meetings. In addition, each member was required to create and read an essay on any subject he pleased. This club continued for almost 40 years.
And when the Junto reached what Franklin considered an optimum size of 12 members, he encouraged interested people to form their own groups. Soon, Junto clubs sprouted up all around Philadelphia.
Public Library to improve himself and empower others
In 1731, Franklin proposed and initiated the first public subscription library in the American colonies in which each subscriber would pay a certain sum for the first purchase of books and an annual contribution for increasing the number of books. The motto of the library was “To support the common good is divine.” Its success became known and was imitated by other towns. Later in his life, he wrote, “these Libraries have improved the general Conversation of Americans, made the common Tradesman and Farmers as intelligent as most Gentlemen from other Countries, and perhaps have contributed in some Degree to the Stand so generally made throughout the Colonies in Defence of their Privileges.”
American Philosophical Society to empower others
In 1743, Franklin believed it was time to “cultivate the finer arts and improve the common stock of knowledge.” He and fellow Junto members helped organize the American Philosophical Society. Still in existence, it is the oldest learned society in the United States.
University of Pennsylvania to empower others
In 1749, Franklin established an academy to educate youth in Pennsylvania as he thought a college education should be made available to the people of Pennsylvania. He wrote and published a pamphlet entitled “Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania” and distributed it freely among the principal inhabitants. The school opened the same year in 1749. It outgrew its house rather quickly. He was instrumental in negotiating with two groups that he was a trustee on to get a bigger building, along with an agreement to maintain a free school for the instruction of poor children. After a period of time, the school eventually became the University of Pennsylvania. He continued to be a trustee for over 40 years and noted that he “had the very great pleasure of seeing a number of the youth who have receiv’d their education in it, distinguish’d by their improv’d abilities, serviceable in public stations and ornaments to their country.”
Apprenticeships to empower others
Even as a printer, Franklin taught his apprentices and empowered them. With his help, several moved on to successfully open up their own printing shops in other towns.
Wise Sayings to empower others
Wisdom is also obtained from others. One need not make all the mistakes to learn how to avoid pitfalls in life. (Franklin wrote: “Wise Men learn by other's harms; Fools by their own.”)
For twenty-five years Benjamin Franklin published the Poor Richard’s Almanack, helping many a reader who heeded the wisdom printed in those publications by introducing into common use such well-known sayings as:
“He's a Fool that makes his Doctor his Heir.”
“Better slip with foot than tongue.”
“Three may keep a secret, if two of them are dead.”
“Fish and Visitors stink in 3 days.”
“Search others for their virtues, thyself for thy vices.”
“A great Talker may be no Fool, but he is one that relies on him.”
"Being ignorant is not so much a Shame, as being unwilling to learn."
Josiah Franklin and Empowerment
We can also witness the outward expression of LRN in action by Franklin’s father, Josiah, which shows how empowering "empowering" can be to others.
Franklin offered in his autobiography that his father liked “to have, as often as he could, some sensible friend or neighbor to converse with, and always took care to start some ingenious or useful topic for discourse, which might tend to improve the minds of his children. By this means he turned our attention to what was good, just, and prudent in the conduct of life.” Franklin also recalled the time his father found some writing of his and showed Franklin where his writing fell short in elegance in expression and clarity, and from that day on Franklin endeavored to improve his writing.
These positive ripples set forth by Josiah were then multiplied many times over by Franklin who, over the course of his life, initiated several programs designed to empower people. The Junto, the public library, the University of Pennsylvania, and the American Philosophical Society are a few of the examples of organizations he initiated. And it may have all been influenced by his father empowering his son to improve the goodness of himself.
You can be a Franklin of LRN. Franklin came from a poor working class family with limited schooling. He was not born famous and wealthy, rather he became these because of his lifelong focus on improving the goodness in himself and empowering others to do the same.
Next: Benjamin Franklin and LAF.