Ben Franklin had no shortage of wisdom to share with the world during his time here.
He invented bifocals, the smokeless coal stove, the lightning rod, and Daylight Saving Time. He had countless other contributions worthy of being written about all on their own.
But today, dear reader, I am not here to simply discuss what he created out of wood, stone and steel.
Rather, I want to take a more intimate look into the man behind all those ingenious inventions. A look into Benjamin Franklin, the gentleman.Let's take a look into Benjamin Franklin, the gentleman. Click To Tweet
We often believe men like him woke up one day with a brilliant idea in their mind, created it from scratch, sold it to the masses, and made their millions.
Sure, at some point in every great man’s life there is a defining moment, or a series of defining moments, that imprint their legacy on the world. But those moments are accumulations of years and years of practiced discipline and resilience through failure.
One of the invaluable lessons that Benjamin Franklin left us was a simple list of 13 virtues. This list was a daily, even hourly, part of his life that became so woven into his character that he became engraved into history as a man synonymous with virtue.
Franklin practically created the concept of what we know today as the “self-made man”. He was constantly improving himself. He was always evaluating both his strengths and his weaknesses in an attempt to better understand what he needed to do to be the best version of himself.
Back to this list I mentioned…
At the ripe age of 20, Franklin decided to embark on a lifelong journey he called his “Quest for Moral Perfection”. A lofty goal, indeed!
But he was up for the challenge and was keenly aware of the inseparable relationship between living a life of virtue, and living the life of a gentleman.Ben Franklin understood the relationship between living a life of virtue, and a gentleman. Click To Tweet
We would be very wise to pay attention to the example he set for us.
He had this to say about it his ambitious endeavor:
“I conceiv’d the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into.”
The word “virtue” is often associated with feminine characteristics and is largely disregarded in the 21st century male culture as old-fashioned at best, and irrelevant at worst.
“Virtue”, in fact, comes from the Latin virtus, which in turn is derived from vir, Latin for “manliness.”
As we’ll see in the virtues laid out by Franklin, he considered the two to be practically synonymous.
So without further adieu, here is Benjamin Franklin’s list of life’s most important virtues, and how to live in accordance with each:
Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
Imitate Jesus and Socrates
Those are some overwhelming goals to achieve! Franklin felt no differently, and established a very practical strategy to accomplish them.
In order to track his adherence of these virtues, he would carry around a small book of 13 charts. Each chart had a column for each day of the week and had 13 rows marked with the first letter of his 13 virtues.
Below is an example of Franklin’s chart:
He would evaluate himself at the conclusion of each day, and place a dot next to each virtue he had violated that day. The ultimate goal being to minimize the number of marks over time until he had an empty sheet, indicating a life “clean” and free of vice.
He would specifically focus on 1 virtue each week by putting it at the top of that week’s chart along with its definition.
This allowed him, after 13 weeks, to move through all 13 virtues. At the conclusion of the 13th week, he would start the process over again. Completing 4 cycles in a year.
Franklin never accomplished his ultimate goal. He had several very well known vices including a, let’s say…generous, love for women, as well as for alcohol. Both of those more often than not hindered rather than aided him in his quest.
He did, however, see his marks diminish over time, and considered himself a better and happier man having attempted it. He had this to say about it at the end of his life:
“Tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.”
Applying Franklin’s Pursuit of “The Virtuous Life” as a Modern Day Gentleman in 2015.
Here at the Modern Day Gentleman, we do our best to provide you with practical and actionable tools that will help you apply the topics we cover as a gentleman in the 21st century.
I thought for a long time about how to best mold Franklin’s list into a more applicable set of virtues for today’s modern gentleman, but quite frankly…they all still apply! Franklin’s list is timeless! There is, it seems, no virtue boxed in by time, or by culture, or by past experiences.Ben Franklin showed us that there is no virtue boxed in by time, or culture, or past experiences Click To Tweet
With that said, here is what I suggest on how to best apply Franklin’s list to your life.
Invest in a moleskin journal or something similar. Print out a copy of the chart from the DIY planner HERE. Paste the chart into your journal and keep it handy!
Apply Franklin’s approach and mark off the areas where you need improvement. Hopefully, over time, you’ll begin to carry yourself more and more like a true gentleman. A virtuous gentleman.
If you have an app on your phone or tablet that can edit PDFs, download the image from DIY planner and save it as a PDF and mark directly onto that!
However you chose to go about it, make every effort to improve on a few of the virtues and see how you fare. If it’s beneficial for you then you can go through all 13 as many times as is helpful!
Don’t forget to leave your thoughts and comments below! And as always, we love to hear from readers so keep us posted if you get a chance to implement Franklin’s approach.
Make it a classy day, gentlemen.
Until next time.