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Reviewing your moral virtues like Benjamin Franklin

In my effort of getting closer to a stoic life for the past year, I’ve set aside all social media platforms, and most messaging apps. It has opened up an enormous opportunity to consume literature instead of dwelling over other peoples food, travel or political statements, and honestly, trying to one-up these posts, either intentionally or subconsciously.

Since I began this whole stoic focus back in the summer of 2020 I have consumed 15 books in less than a year. This is from someone who used to read maybe one book every other year, so for me this is a massive change. The books have also given me an extraordinary view of perspective as well, and as Theodore Roosevelt had said according to Morris in his biography of the president, “I am part of everything that I have read”. This quote has also pushed my reading into things I ought to read, rather than want to read. Most books are about people I admire and want to learn from, subjects I want to understand better, and just sometimes, something juicy for fun! Though the latter is just as fun. I guess they are both ought to read, and want to read, come to think of it.

One of these people I have always admired has been the great Benjamin Franklin. How could you not admire this founding father, writer, philosopher, politician, postmaster, scientist, inventor, comedian, civic activist, statesman and diplomat? So what could be better than reading his own words in his Autobiography, first published in French in 1791, and later in English in 1793.

Side note: Benjamin Franklin was enormously popular in France. Note that the French revolutionary ideas that created the foundation of personal freedoms in France is what inspired a lot of the American constitution. The French have since had a tendency to challenge their own foundational constitution by constant protesting and other various theatrical outbursts. But look to the French to see how they admire American presidents that hold true to old American values of individual freedom and dignity – as they tried to petition Barack Obama to run for president of France. . . People like Donald Trump does not embody what Europeans believe to be American values. Donald Trump promotes singular power, hierarchy, authority and show of government force. Values that seem very old school Austro-Hungarian empire -style, and not new world of science and experimentation that we have admired so much in Europe. The opposite of what I believe to be the ideas of the founding fathers.

I’ve taken up a small part of trying to live a more virtuous life in accordance with Benjamin Franklings quite stoic ideals. Here’s to go about it if you want to try yourself.

  • Awake early in the morning. If it’s difficult to do so, I suggest meditating over Marcus Aurelius quote on arising in the morning:

At dawn, when you have trouble getting out of bed, tell yourself: “I have to go to work — as a human being. What do I have to complain of, if I’m going to do what I was born for — the things I was brought into the world to do? Or is this what I was created for? To huddle under the blankets and stay warm?”

  • Go directly to your journal, ask yourself: What good will I do today? And write this answer down to try and remember to focus on doing this.

  • During the day try not to fail at the following 13 virtues (if you fail at one, make a little dot in a notebook for the virtue you failed today – the goal being ‘no dots’, representing a clean life)

    • Temperance: Don’t eat until boredom, don’t drink til' you’re drunk

    • Silence: Speak not of things with selfish endeavours – don’t participate in frivolous conversation.

    • Order: Everything has it’s place – your business has its time

    • Resolution: Finish what you started – with purpose and quality

    • Frugality: Don’t waste your coin

    • Industry: Don’t waste your time – work on doing only productive tasks and cut away all unnecessary activities

    • Sincerity: Think innocently and justly. If you speak, speak accordingly.

    • Justice: Fail nobody by hurting someone or rejecting your duties

    • Moderation: Avoid extremes. Don’t enact revenge on someone that’s wronged you in the same or more hurtful way.

    • Cleanliness: Tolerate no dirt in body, clothing or your home

    • Tranquility: Don’t let external events bother you, or accidents that you could not prevent.

    • Chastity: This is a bit puritan and old-american, but a modern sense of this could be not to consume porn, or ruin your or someones reputation by being “loose”.

    • Humility: Franklin writes, be like Jesus or Socrates. I just wrote, be like Franklin or Marcus Aurelius – two of my heroes.

  • When the day is over, review your Virtues, and give yourself points on these and reflect on how to improve tomorrow. Also, ask yourself – what good did I do today? And write this down too.

And really, just don’t take yourself so seriously. The last point on humility is so important – nobody could laugh at themselves like Benjamin Franklin could. He’s done some funny stuff, and made many mistakes which he writes about. Like when trying to prove you could cook a turkey by electrocuting it – he electrocuted himself by mistake and writing that it would be quite an embarrassing way to die.

Anyway, as the great rapper LxYal or B-Dynamitze would say, when they quote Benjamin Franklin – No Pain, No Gain (original: No gains without pains. B Franklin 1745)

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Aug 12, 2021

True indeed and beautifully written. Personally I decided to least use social media platforms for some time now and even deactivated few just to focus more on living in the present and discover things that I've never done before, or I should put it rediscover myself rather than living a life doing for others to "see".

I read this somewhere that one said it's funny how we outgrow what we once thought we couldn't live without and then we fall in love with something we didn't even know we wanted. Life leads us down paths we wouldn't ever go on if it were up to us. Don't be afraid. Keep the faith. Embrace the lessons. Trust the journey.

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