Most of us know of Benjamin Franklin as the man who stood in the rain flying a kite to demonstrate that lightning was a form of electricity. Franklin was also a printer and newspaper publisher, postmaster, civic activist, scientist, inventor, diplomat, and drafter of the American Declaration of Independence. Where did he find the time to accomplish so much?
David Goldwich tells me that Franklin was also America's first self-improvement guru. At the age of 27 he began his "Project of arriving at moral Perfection." Franklin identified a dozen virtues and developed a system to attain them. They were: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquillity, and chastity.
When a friend suggested that Franklin appeared proud, he added "humility" to the list as item number thirteen.
Realizing that it would be difficult to focus on all of these areas at once, Franklin concentrated on one a week, and repeated the entire cycle four times a year. It was tough going and Franklin often fell short of the mark. While he never achieved moral perfection, he found the exercise beneficial and his character much improved.
Moral perfection is too high a standard. As perfection is not humanly possible, the perfectionist is essentially telling himself that nothing he does will ever be good enough. Franklin recognized this and moderated his goal. He was not perfect, but he was astonishingly productive and successful throughout his life. When you examine his list and how he approached it you begin to understand why.
Tomorrow we’ll look at Franklin’s list of necessary virtues.