The 13 virtues from Benjamin Franklin

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In 1726, at the age of 20, Benjamin Franklin created a system to develop his character. But originally, the word “virtue” was inextricably connected to what it meant to be a true honorable man.

Franklin advised:

“My intention being to acquire the habitude of all these virtues, I judg’d it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time; and, when I should be master of that, then to proceed to another, and so on, till I should have gone thro’ the thirteen; and, as the previous acquisition of some might facilitate the acquisition of certain others, I arrang’d them with that view, as they stand above. Temperance first, as it tends to procure that coolness and clearness of head, which is so necessary where constant vigilance was to be kept up, and guard maintained against the unremitting attraction of ancient habits, and the force of perpetual temptations. This being acquir’d and establish’d, Silence would be more easy; and my desire being to gain knowledge at the same time that I improv’d in virtue, and considering that in conversation it was obtain’d rather by the use of the ears than of the tongue, and therefore wishing to break a habit I was getting into of prattling, punning, and joking, which only made me acceptable to trifling company, I gave Silence the second place.”

In his autobiography, Franklin listed his thirteen virtues as:

  1. Temperance. Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  2. Silence. Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  3. Order. Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  4. Resolution. Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. Frugality. Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry. Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. Sincerity. Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. Justice. Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. Moderation. Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloaths, or habitation.
  11. Tranquillity. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

“I propos’d to myself, for the sake of clearness, to use rather more names, with fewer ideas annex’d to each, than a few names with more ideas; and I included under thirteen names of virtues all that at that time occurr’d to me as necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept, which fully express’d the extent I gave to its meaning.” – Benjamin Franklin

References:

http://www.thirteenvirtues.com/

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

“Franklin was a statesman, author, inventor, printer, and scientist. He helped draft the Declaration of Independence and later was involved in negotiating the peace treaty with Britain that ended the Revolutionary War. He also invented bifocals, a stove that is still manufactured, a water-harmonica, and the lightning rod.”

 

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6 Comments Add yours

  1. timeless wisdom-thank you

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  2. Thank you Michele! They are simple concepts, however, not so easy to follow. They demand constant “awareness” and mindfulness.

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  3. Zeal4living says:

    Focusing on 13 virtues is an excellent practice that I have been doing for several years now, inspired by Benjamin Franklin. the number 13 has an interesting background. If you focus one week on each virtue you will cover each virtue four times during a year. It is something not disclosed by Benjamin Franklin but when you look at the traditions from where the practice eminates you will find that this is the reason why 13 virtues were selected.

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  4. That is an admirable practice! I was also very touched by this concept and I also decided to give it a try, it’s not a difficult concept but not always easy to do. It requires mindfulness, a persistent focus and awareness, which I think are all good practices to develop. I had read about the 13 number, multiplied by 4 is 52 weeks of the year, but is there another meaning associated with the mystical traditions?
    How has the practice been for you?
    Thank you for your comments and I look forward to your feedback :).

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  5. Franklin was also apparently a very skilled chess player. While not exactly a “virtue” per se, it shows that it can be nice to find solace in the simple things, like a board game or a bowl of cereal.

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    1. That is very interesting! I think that appreciating the simple things in life could also be seen as a virtue to cultivate. Those simple moments make the foundation for gratitude, contentment, and solace, as you said. Thank you for your comment. Hope you visit again 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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