Why be a better person: Benjamin Franklin

When I completed my basic readings of the Revolutionary Period (1760-1800) of American Literature earlier this year, I ended up with this in my head: politics, ideals, and the so-wished by so-few, whipping mother-of-all value called discipline. Among all the pamphlets and ideals and bustling desires of dignity, Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography struck me the most.

Before I explain this well, I have much and many to mention. First, Patrick Henry’s speech at the Virginia Convention, a perfect example of persuasive, blunt discourse:

Give me liberty or give me death!

My heart shrank in a single pulse when I read, from The Crisis by Thomas Paine, the words below, probably because I feel it can be said about our times:

These are the times that try men’s souls . . . What we obtain too cheap, we steem too lightly

I felt passion under Jefferson’s words on the Declaration of Independence, the beginning of the American identity forming in the Letters from an American Farmer by Michael-Guillaume Jean de Crévecoeur and in the verses of Phillis Wheatley, the widely applauded female African-American poet of the 18th century.

But I am here to talk briefly about Benjamin Franklin, a Founding Father of the United States -therefore a politician-, philosopher, writer, musician, scientist/inventor and many other occupations, titles and professions I purposedly omit.

He had bad education, was raised in poverty. If young Benjamin Franklin lived today and were in literary workshops, he would probably be the type I dislike: the person who doesn’t stop mockery and stamps on all sorts of diplomacy. His attitude gained him job blockage, due to which he fled to New York. His journey there depended on fate and on mercy of others.

So how does a miserable imp become an extraordinary historical figure, a successful newspaper editor, founder of the University of Pennsylvania (which is currently in the top 20 universities of the world), founder of the American Society of Philosophy, a unique catalyzer of technology (it’s just so much, Google it, please)? First of all, he could get a job in NY and earned his bread. But that’s not all.

It’s outside the realms of my pretension to lay as statements of truth what I consider is good or bad or being a better person or a worse person or whatsoever. However, I do consider being a better person (in non-moral aspects of the term) involves setting goals related to discipline and prudence, and working on them without self-indulgence.

Franklin’s method -which I tried for two months- involved watching himself closely, daily, orderly, what he considered virtues: Temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, humility. He obliged himself to acquire the habit of those so-called virtues, one by one, for a period of time; he kept a calendar of his failures, and worked cycles after cycles on those habits.

Probably we wouldn’t consider those exact virtues in that exact order as priorital, but surely this is a top example of the power of discipline and self-development. So if you would like to know more, if you are one of those people interested in constant progress,  read his Autobiography!

P.S.: I have already started “First Harvest (1800-1840)” and I am loving it! Will definitely write on it!!!

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