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Benjamin Franklin Method For Living By Virtues

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“A good example is the best sermon.” – BF

Since elementary school, when I first heard the myth of Benjamin Franklin discovering electricity by flying a kite in a thunderstorm with a key dangling from it, he has been my hero.   Emulating Franklin has been a lifelong quest.  He was an inventor, musician, negotiator, advisor, rogue, sage, writer, epicurean, entertainer, and elitist.  All attributes to which I have aspired.  And, like Franklin, I too have flown kites in rainstorms with some successes and many failures.

My first book report, in the fourth grade, was a small Benjamin Franklin biography.  Since then I have read all there is to read about him and patterned some of my interest to match his.  I have made money as a musician, entertainer, writer, and advisor.  And, been identified as an elitist, epicurean, sage and a rogue.  Match my photo on this book jacket with a one hundred dollar bill, and you will see that as I have aged I have even come to resemble Benjamin Franklin!

During my final career, that of a business and marketing consultant, I used an exercise in workshops based on Benjamin Franklin’s Method for Living by Virtues.   Franklin identified thirteen virtues by which he desired to live his life and each day until his death measured his progress.  Several decades ago, I adopted my own set of virtues and used a process similar to his to measure my own virtuous progression.  It was through my process and from request of those who attended my workshops this tome was born.   My hope is you will find the information presented here sufficiently provocative to motivate you to develop your own method for measuring your virtuous process.

 

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN METHOD FOR LIVING BY VIRTUES

Benjamin Franklin (1706—1790) was a jack-of-all trades and master of many.  No other American, except possibly Thomas Jefferson, did so many things well.  During his long and useful life, Franklin’s myriad interests ranged from statesmanship and soap making, from publishing and cabbage growing, to international diplomacy and saucy bacchanals.

He distinguished himself as a diplomat, invented an efficient heating stove and proved that lightning is electricity.  Franklin won international renown as a printer/publisher, author, philosopher, scientist, inventor and philanthropist.

Though not the father, he should surely be considered the “uncle” of our country.  Franklin was the only man who signed all four key documents in American history—the Declaration of Independence, the Treaty of Alliance with France, the Treaty of Peace with Great Britain, and the Constitution of the United States.   People still quote from his, Sayings of Poor Richard and his numerous papers on money, national wealth, credit, wages, the movement of populations, and other economic subjects.  Franklin also founded Pennsylvania’s first university and its first public hospital.

Thomas Jefferson hailed him as “the greatest man and ornament of the age and of the country in which he lived.”

The parents of Franklin wished him to be a minster of the gospel.  They began to educate him with that end in view.  Being of meager resources, however, he had to leave school to work in his father’s business – soap and candle making.   Franklin was raised as an Episcopalian but was considered a Deist in his latter years. He was less religious than Washington and Jefferson.  Not a Christian per se, most Franklin scholars found him, however, to be moderate in his attitude toward them.  Agreeing that he did not attempt to ridicule or bludgeon Christianity to death by argument.  Besides calling himself a Deist, Franklin often referred to himself as an egotist:  someone who believed far more in himself than he could have believed in the divinity of Christ.  Though Franklin rarely wrote of religion, he did make the following statement when asked if he believed in Jesus’ divinity:

As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupt changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; tho’ it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and I think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble.

Franklin said he preferred to contemplate the eternal in the privacy of his own home.  And, even while he was absorbed in his many vocations and avocations, he also devoted considerable time to soul searching and the regular examination of his own moral code.  It was from his desire to live a noble and righteous life that his method for living by thirteen virtues was born.   Franklin used his life own philosophy rather than that of organized religions.  He did, however, study the philosophies and writings of spiritualist and other thinkers into serious consideration when developing his daily process for measuring self-improvement and ethically behavior.

Sharing much of Franklin’s religious and life philosophies, once I discovered his method for living by virtues,  had to devise my own.  But, first lets explore Benjamin Franklin’s Method for Living by Virtue and then we’ll review my contemporary adaptations.  Note that his desire to and process for living a virtuous life is based on well-being, his own well-being and that of others.   My process also evolves around concern for my well-being and the well-being of my fellow travelers on this earthly journey.

“To err is human, to repent divine; to persist devilish.” – BF

 

The Method

Quoting from the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin:

It was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection.  I wished to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into.

As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other.  But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined.  While my care was employed in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another; habit took the advantage of inattention; inclination was sometimes too strong for reason. 

I concluded, at length, that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous was not sufficient to prevent our slipping; and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence upon a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct.  For this purpose, I therefore contrived the following method.

In the various enumeration of moral virtues I had met with in my reading, I found the catalog more or less numerous, as different writers included more or fewer ideas under the same name.   Temperance, for example, was by some confined to eating and drinking, while by others it was extended to mean the moderating of every other pleasure, appetite, inclination, or passion, bodily or mental, even to avarice and ambition.

I proposed to myself, for the sake of clearness, to use rather more names, with fewer ideas annexed to each, than few names with more ideas; and I included, under thirteen names of virtues, all that at time occurred to me as necessary or desirable, and annexed to each a short precept, which fully expressed the extent I gave to its meaning

The thirteen virtues, with their precepts, are:

  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 yourself; i.e., waste nothing.
  6. Industry: Lose no time; be always employed 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 uncleanness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  11. Tranquility: 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.

Franklin determined that it would be impossible to acquire the “complete habitude” of all the virtues all at one time.  He decided to first master them one week at a time in the order that they as presented above.  He intentionally put Temperance first:

Temperance 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 acquired and established, Silence would be more easy.

Benjamin Franklin created a journal in which he allotted a page for each week.  Each page had seven columns drawn with red ink, one for each day of the week and was marked at the top a letter representing that day of the week.  He then drew thirteen horizontal lines and marked the beginning of each with the first letter of the virtue it represented.  At the end of the day, he sat at his desk and reflected on the day’s activities.  Each time he realized that he had not lived up to a particular virtue, he placed a black dot in the square representing the virtue and the day.  He began by allotting one week for special emphasis on each virtue.  After thirteen weeks, he more diligently measured them all:

I determined to give a week’s strict attention to each of the virtues successively.  Thus, in the first week, my greatest guard was to avoid even the least offense against Temperance, leaving the other virtues in their ordinary chance, only marking every evening the faults of the day.  

Thus, if in the first week I could keep my first line, marked T, clear of spots, I supposed the habit of that virtue so much strengthened, and its opposite weakened, that I might venture extending my attention to include the next, and for the following week keep both lines clear of spots.

In truth, I found myself incorrigible with respect to Order; and now I am grown old, and my memory bad, I feel very sensibly the want of it.  But, on the whole, though I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavor, a better and a happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.  Those who aim at perfect writing by imitating the engraved copies, though they never reach the wished for excellence of those copies, their hand is mended by the endeavor.

Benjamin Franklin’s quest for perfection provided him a process for achieving a higher level of performance in his work, greater satisfaction from his relationships, and a method for ensuring that each aspect of his life received appropriate and timely attention.  Benjamin Franklin his affairs by virtues until his death at the age of eighty-four and achieved a degree of greatness and recognition few have ever known.

Let’s review Franklin’s thirteen virtues again.  This time as you review them, think about virtues you’d like to master.  Yours may be very different from Franklin’s.  Mine are. During the review also reflect on those you admire most and examine the virtues you think they exemplify.  Include famous people, friends, family members and others whom you respect.  What characteristics do they possess that you would most like to emulate?

 

Benjamin Franklin’s Thirteen Virtues

One:  Temperance – Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.

Two:  Silence – Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.

Three:  Order – Let all your things have their places; let each part  of your business have its time.

Four:  Resolution – Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.

Five:  Frugality – Make no expense but to do good to yourself; i.e., waste nothing.

Six:  Industry – Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.

Seven:  Sincerity – Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and if you speak, speak accordingly.

Eight:  Justice – Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.

Nine:  Moderation – Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Ten:  Cleanliness – Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes, or habitation.

Eleven:  Tranquility – Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.

Twelve:  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.

Thirteen:  Humility – Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

 

Larry Womack’s Method For Living By Virtues

I have not been as diligent as Ben Franklin in responsibly measuring my virtuous progress.  After developing my process, some twenty years ago after reading his autobiography for the fourth time, I diligently measured progress daily for several years.  After that, I became somewhat lax.  Some years just an annual written measurement was the best I could muster, but in most years I at least measured my progress quarterly. But even during the lax years and to this day, most evening before falling asleep, I reflected on my progress during that day or lack thereof.

Here are the ten virtues that I settled on.  The order of importance changes with the

passage of time and is not presented in any special order.

  1. Be in Service – It is better to serve those you know than to give alms to the poor.
  2. Be Adaptable – There is no future in the past.
  3. Be Thoughtful – Thoughtfulness expressed is worth more than treasures given.
  4. Be Smarter – Success in work and life always comes from learning something new.
  5. Be Friendly – Be nice to everyone, pick close friends and cohorts wisely and cherish them.
  6. Be Responsible – Do unto others as you say you will do.  And do the same for yourself.
  7. Be Moderate – Avoid excesses but delight in second helpings.
  8. Be Adventurous – Try most things once, some things twice and many things never again.
  9. Be Appreciative – See beauty in everyone, everything and everywhere.
  10. Be Joyful – Always.

 

The Source Of My Virtues

At this writing, I am seventy-three years old, twelve years younger than Franklin at his death.  Though I still do many of my own stunts, I know I have less than twenty percent of my life left to live.  In relationship to my tenure as a human being, I will die soon.  All the arrangements have been made and will be executed by the capable hands of my grandson and namesake, Larry Arace.  He is nineteen at this writing.  My corpse will be hauled from my “mansion in the sky” condominium or elsewhere to Vanderbilt University Medical School for use by students and interns, as was my late wife Diane’s.  (She always wanted to go to medical school.)  There will be no epilogue.  No Saint Peter at the Golden Gate.  No heavenly reunions.  Like Diane, eventually I’ll just disappear into the compost heap of life to nurture new living things.  Maybe even push up a daisy or two.  Larry Womack will exist only in the fading memories of loved ones and in the occasional anecdotes of acquaintances.  Life will go on just fine.  That is for everyone but me.

Have I lived a virtuous life?  Hell no.  Have I tried to?  Hell yes!  Though I devoted much of my life to extracting the joys from it, for the most part, I did so responsibly and collegially.  Garnering as much joy from the successes and happiness’s of others as from my own fading accomplishments.

Like Franklin, I was a practicing Christian who worshiped God and Jesus as a Methodist/Episcopalian for decades.  I am, however, no longer a religious or spiritual person.  I value my Christian upbringing and have great respect for all who legitimately follow moral paths within religions traditions and spiritual movements.  I even considered the Christian ministry several times during my adult life and continue to immerse myself in the richness of spiritual literature and thought.

Though I am not rigid in my current philosophical opinions, I am firm.  I, like Franklin, fail to see how any particular religions advances my well-being, improves my contributions to my fellowman or enhances my stewardship of the flora, fauna, and resources here on earth. I am, by nature, a hopeful pessimist and a pragmatic optimist.

My current philosophies on life, death, allegiances and morality form the underpinning of the ten virtues by which I measure my success in life and work.

Because I believe that human life is finite, I hold it sacred – worthy of respect; venerable. The well-being of every individual should be respected without judgment.   Human life is fragile but only for the living.  I also appreciate and value the joy and sustenance I receive from every other living creature and plant.  I celebrate the contributions of artists, healers, jesters, teachers, inventors, discoverers, spiritualist, merchants, and rogues. I revel in the physical, emotional, and mental differences between men and women and between the races. I weep at the pain we suffer and inflict on others.  I try to do my share and sometimes a little more.

I believe that death is the great equalizer.  Whereas life is not always fair, death is. Though death, to me, is the end of life as I know it, I accept that death is a mystery.  I find it intriguing, however, that most of my Christians friends say one can only enter the Kingdom of God through grace but reserve salvation for submissive believers alone.  When my wife was dying with Cancer, several friends suggested that we pray for a miracle.  Our response was, “We’ve already had a miracle.  It lasted forty years.”  After she died people would say, she is in a better place.  I usually quietly nodded.  Though in my heart, I knew the best place for her was here with me.  I have no desire to see Diane or any of my dead love ones again.  It would be anticlimactic.

Allegiances are formed for specific purposes – for commerce, sport, worship, recreation, procreation, and companionship.  For allegiances to work, they must advance the well-being of all parties.  When an individual, within an allegiance, no longer respects, honors, or values it, the allegiance is broken – in need of renewal, repair or dissolution.  Personal well-being must include looking out for the well-being of others to be achieved.  It’s been that way since human beings joined together for the purpose of hunting or gathering.  My first job was as a drummer in a dance band.  Not playing well with others could have gotten me fired.  During my business career, I had six different partners.  All of whom remained lifelong friends after a few initial weeks or months of estrangement.  I pledge allegiance to my friends, my work, my family, my well-being, my play and all other responsibilities I assume.

Morality is basically respecting the well-being of one’s self and others.  Be a hunter or gatherer, looking out for the well-being of all who are in the group serves selfish interest, group interests and the interest of each participating individuals.  Communities, large and small, establish rules to live by based on the current understanding of morality.  Though the law of morality – respect for the well-being of one’s self and others – never changes, understanding of it does evolve with time and circumstance.  Those who stay within boundaries of agreed-upon rules are considered moral.  Individuals who habitually operate outside those boundaries are thought to be immoral and subject to the consequences agreed upon by that group or mandated by its rulers.

This law of morality is the basis of my ten virtues.  My virtues are different from Benjamin Franklin’s mostly because the times and circumstances in which I live are different from his.  Yours, if you choose to identify them, will differ from mine.

I love life, do not fear death, keep most of my promises to those with whom I have an agreed commitment and admittedly have a self-adjusting moral compass.

Here are my ten virtues once again with expanded explanations of why I selected them and how try to live by them, as well.

 

“All blood is alike ancient.” – BF

 

1.  Be in Service – It is better to serve those you know than to give alms to the poor

Be a servant and you will live like a king.  Being a servant is not just giving arbitrary handouts to street people or donating to charitable causes.  Being a servant is finding ways to directly and passionately provide meaningful support, aid and comfort to those around you – at home, work and in all the other venues you frequent.  It’s finding worthy causes and worthy people and supporting them.  My final career was assisting business leaders develop successful business strategies. I continue to use those skills to assist individuals, mostly friends, in achieving personal and business goals. From three to six individuals call me each weekday for advice and to play catch with ideas.  But, I refuse to be compensated for my assistance because it would obligate me to attend meetings.

One added advantage of being a servant is that it gives you people.  People to whom I have provided services include lawyers, plumbers, accountants, car dealers, doctors, religionist, wine merchants and other important subject matter experts.  Therefore when I need assistance with a particular problem, challenge or opportunity I have people to call on, instead of just relying on my own limited expertise.  Having people expands one’s enjoyment of life while limiting life’s vicissitudes.

One night after Diane died, I lay in bed thinking about what the future might hold for me.  Though we had long ago stopped being Christians, we had not stopped being in service to others.  We accepted service as a reward not a duty.  While I took a more cerebral approach to service, Diane was more practical; down in the trenches.  That night I decided that as a part of my good life, I would try to devote at least twenty percent of each day in service to others.  I am proud to say that on most days, I exceed my goal.

Note:  This virtue became easier to address once I retired.

 

“Write injuries in dust, benefits in marble.” – BF

 

2.  Be Adaptable – There is no future in the past.

I love change.  Always have.  I even regularly carry change in my pocket.  New opportunities and challenges really get my blood flowing. Though I do hold a few important memories, I don’t hold on to memorabilia.  The only keepsakes I have include some art produced by my daughters and grandchildren, a few special greeting cards shared with my late wife, some pictures of my family kept in a shoebox, and a small plastic baby’s hairbrush given to me by my grandson when he was four years old.  He’s now nineteen.   I keep it in the glove box of my car.  I say it is there for emergency combings, but those who have seen me know better.    By embracing change, one remains relevant, productive, and useful.  Fighting change, as so many of my generation does, makes one boring, irrelevant and crotchety.

Note:  Change has always been easy for me. I once complained to a business partner that I’d like to just chill out more.  He said. “Forget about it.  You are to curious.  You’ll always want to know what’s over the next hill.”

 

“When you are good to others, you are best to yourself.” – BF

 

3.  Be Thoughtful – Thoughtfulness expressed is worth more than treasures given.

Thoughtfulness is the most important virtue for living the good life.  Understanding the goals, aspirations, desires and needs of others, then responding to them, not only advances the well-being of the recipient, it is the ultimate business strategy and self-serving act.

For example, I have always preferred the company of women to men.  Men are boring and mostly talk about sports and women.  Never good at sports, I chose to be good at women.  It is my joy and sometimes my curse.  Most women find me charming and pleasant to be around because they intuitively sense that I genuinely like them and truly enjoy the pleasure of their company.

Admittedly through trial and error, I learned that the characteristic that women appreciate most in a man is thoughtfulness. Not the remembering important dates kind of thoughtfulness, but the remembering what type of dressing they like on their salad kind.  Women like to be asked about, how things went at the gynecologist that day, and other life experiences. Little things.

Men respond to thoughtfulness as well.  But men often do so with a twinge of guilt because they realize that they would never have thought to be thoughtful.  Thoughtful people, businesses, ideas, and actions are more powerful and rewarding than selfish motives and actions. And, a lot more  pleasurable.

Note:  My father was a thoughtful person.  Sometimes to a fault.  As I matured I became more like him.  I must admit there is a touch of Machiavellianism some of my acts of thoughtfulness.  I think I know what’s best for others.

 

“Genius without education is like silver in the mine” BF

 

4.  Be SmarterSuccess in work and life always comes from learning something new.

The mantra of my consulting career was: An uneducated opinion is a dangerous resource, especially if it’s your own.  Learning something new each day is important to me.  Most evenings I reflect on what I learned that day and if I came up short, tomorrow’s learning becomes even more intense.  Once during my career, I stopped learning for about five years and suddenly found myself to be irrelevant.  It took me six months of reading, studying, and conversing with knowledgeable people to get my career back on track.  I vowed to never again let that happen.  I read and listen to books and podcasts, converse with my people, watch TV, traverse the Internet, and advance my technological skills in a regulated way and on a daily basis.

Success comes more readily to those who admit that it is a lack of important knowledge that is holding them back, and then diligently seeks the knowledge he or she needs.  Some of my older friends say it is their age preventing them from career advancement, I contend is because years ago they determined they already knew all they ever needed to know and stopped learning.  When I was promoting my quest for knowledge to my late friend Jesse Coles, he said, “I don’t need to learn anything else.  I already know a lot of stuff I haven’t used yet.”

Note:  A bad bump in my business career pointed out my reliance on antiquated knowledge.  Not a good place for an advisor.  To correct this misstep I made education a part of my work instead of adjunctive to it.

 

“He that lieth down with dogs shall rise up with fleas.” –  BF

 

5.  Be Friendly – Be nice to everyone, pick close friends and cohorts wisely and cherish them.

My goal is to ensure that all my social interactions begin and end on a positive note.  In the great movie, All That Jazz, Roy Schieder plays famed choreographer Bob Fosse.  Weary from last night carousing and drinking, Schieder stands before the bathroom mirror preparing for another day of arduous rehearsal . He looks into the mirror, fakes a smile and says, “It’s show time folks!”

Sometimes being friendly isn’t easy but it is always important to one’s well-being and the attitude of others to put on a happy face.  My dad said, “You can always act your way into a new way of thinking but you can’t think your way into a new way of acting.

A principle my mother taught me early on was to hang with the haves.  Choose people for friends and acquaintances who will elevate you not bring you down.  I have lived that principle and made a good living doing so.  Though we were not haves, she knew how the haves lived because of the aristocracy back in her family tree.  She was also privy to the good life through her voracious reading and movie going.  Mother encouraged me to get to know the haves.  Many people, with whom I was raised in my North Nashville Tennessee blue-collar neighborhood, held the haves in disdain  blaming all of societies ills and missteps on “the man,” aka They: that small group of people who allegedly control all the wealth, media, healthcare, business, industry and who knows what else.  Many unaware people still hold this view of oppression and conspiracy.

Rather than vilify they, I chose to get to know some of them. Of the theys, I got to know a few were dastardly evil, but most were nice people.  It was when, as a youth, I began to attend cross-town meetings of the Methodist Youth Fellowship and to meet people outside my blue-collar community that I first realized there were haves in Nashville, Tennessee, literate, caring rich people.  Until then, I believed they only inhabited New York City, California and, maybe, Paris, France and London, England.

Rather than to curse the haves, I chose to serve them.  Though I never bought into all aspects of their lifestyle.  (Those who didn’t see me at one private club just thought I was at another private club.)  I chose to work with the haves, not to often play with them.  Particularly as a consultant, I found that if I could provide my clients with strategies to advance their wealth or status all ships would then rise with the tide, including mine.   I got a small remuneration from each of them, allowing me to do quite well.

Note:  Friendliness has always been easy for me even though at heart I am shy.  Meeting new people creates anxiety but for some unknown reason it rarely causes me to back away from being cordial.  I have a private personality with a public persona.

 

“He that by the plow would thrive, himself must either hold or drive.” – BF

 

6.  Be Responsible – Do unto others as you have told them you would do and do it unto yourself, as well.

People have numerous methods for abdicating responsibilities.  The most egregious to me is blaming God.  Though never mentioned in ancient religious texts, many people use, everything happens for a reason to excuse or explain negative things that happen to themselves and others.  Ask why and they will probably tell you, it is in the Bible.  The reasons bad things happen to me is I’m not paying attention, I’ve chosen to be ignorant on the subject or the circumstances are beyond my control (shit happens).   My most quoted quote from Shakespeare is, “The fault dear Brutus lies not in our stars but in ourselves that we are underlings.”

Many irresponsible acts are committed out of pure selfishness like tardiness and eating the last doughnut without asking permission.  Both I’m guilty of.  But as a child and as an adult, those who cared always knew where I was and what I was up to.  And as a businessman, those who depended on me for assistance knew I’d do what I said I would do; when I said I would do it.   There were some, especially during my college days, who equated my casual style as laziness, they were often correct.

I drive too fast and have had several tickets for doing so.  I’m working on it.  I have driven under the influence but stopped years ago.  I hurt other peoples’ feelings but not near as often as they hurt mine.   Being responsible is very closely related to being thoughtful.  One’s well being depends on one being responsible.

Note:  Most of the times when we’re irresponsible, it affects others more than it does self.  That’s why it is so easy.

 

“Tis easier to suppress the first desire than to satisfy all that follow it.” – BF

 

7.  Be Moderate – Avoid excesses but delight in second helpings.

Moderation in all things, I learned from Episcopalians.  To explain to conservative Christians why Episcopalians drink, party, dance, gamble and eat rich foods, Episcopalians adopted this motto:  Moderation in all things.  Not only did it provide certain liberties, the motto was very attractive to individuals from other denominations that did those things and were told by their preacher they were being sinful.  Moderation in all things was a great recruitment tool for the Episcopal Church.

I am a stress eater and drinker.  Since Diane’s death, I have used food and drink to dull the pain.  Recently I lost forty pounds and now regularly workout and watch my diet.  A vegetarian friend was most helpful in improving my food choices.  I still eat steak, but in moderation.  I still drink wine, but in moderation.   As I age, however, I find that my moderation is constantly being readjusted.  Much like my moral code.

Note:  There have been periods of excess that I overcame when I put my mind to them.  Most notably eating and drinking.  Definitions of moderation differ from individual to individual.  Mine may be more inclusive than some.

 

8.  Be Adventurous – Try most things once, some things twice and most things never again.

To live adventurously is a declaration I made to my wife when I became fifty.  I told her that I had decided to become less responsible.  Not irresponsible, but less responsible.  Our girls were basically out of the house; we had achieved financial stability; and I no longer felt the need to be an example of reliability and dependability.  I made a conscious choice to consider all the experiences the world has to offer and to approach each day as an opportunity to try something new.   Though no one has ever accused me of living dangerously, I am guilty of living adventurously.     Smoking marijuana and eating raw oysters for the first time is adventurous.  Not buckling one’s seatbelt and using hard drugs is dangerous.   Performing as the white lead singer in a black blues band in black nightclubs during the civil rights era was adventurous.  Riding a motorcycle with or without a helmet is dangerous.  Eating street food in New York City is adventurous.  Not getting a colonoscopy at my age is dangerous.

Once, while in the LA airport, I saw Mohammed Ali with his entourage.  Ali, in the early stages of Parkinson’s, and I share a mutual friend.  I walked up to Ali and said, “John J. Hooker told me that if I ran into you, I should kick your ass.”  Ali got me in a headlock and said, “You tell John J. that nobody can kick my ass.  I am still the greatest!”  We had a laugh and Ali sent his regards to our friend.  That was an adventurous thing to do.

Note:  Even as a child, I leaned towards adventure and away from danger more than most of my playmates.  I never liked getting hurt or wounded.  Consequently I gave up football for tennis.

 

9.  Enjoy Beauty – See beauty in everyone, everything and everywhere. 

Enjoy beauty comes more easily for me as I age.  Many of my older acquaintances, however, seem to go in the other direction.  Their motto is things ain’t like they used to be.  If I was a God person, I’d say, “Thank God to that!   As a believer in humankind and nature, I revel at the beauty of the earth and the splendor of the skies.  Music, poetry, art, thought, fashion, and all the visceral experiences, both old and new, inspire my mind and heart.

The beauty of the earth warms my being, especially on long drives and bike rides when I commune with nature and with the memory of Diane.  I like pretty things, music, places, food, people, clothes, and ideas.  I revel in the beauty of the minds and hearts of people I know, people I meet, and people I just brush up against. I don’t need a god to thank. The world alone is wondrous enough for me.

Note:  This virtue was instilled in my by my mother and fostered by my wife and two daughters.  Though there were times when my eye was mostly on the prize, I usually found time to appreciate the people and world around me.

 

“Content makes poor men rich; discontent makes rich men poor.” – BF

 

10.  Be Joyful – Always.

Enough said.

 

Living By Virtue Exercise (based on my workshops)

Benjamin Franklin developed a very detailed method for improving the way he managed his life, conducted his business, and related to others.  His method and his definitions of virtues served as a thoughtful background from which to develop a personal program of self-improvement.  The goal of my workshops, based on Franklin’s method was to help the attendees create an ongoing process of improvement, rather than just to raise awareness to the value of continuously evaluating one’s ability and well-being.

Often the important lessons learned in workshops and seminars fade with time, if a simple process isn’t provided to keep the lessons alive and meaningful.  At the end of each workshop, I would ask each attendee to place their virtuous goals in an envelop and seal it.  I would collect the envelops and promise to mail them in a year.  I received many communications in appreciation for doing this follow up.

What follows is based on my experiences in these workshops.  Once you have mastered the concept, I recommend that you share the process with your friends, family, and coworkers.

 

Step One:  Who Do You Admire?

Who are the people you admire most and what are the reasons for your admiration?  Think of three individuals living or dead and write your choices on a blank sheet of paper.  If you wish to share the experience with others and discuss them.  The persons whom you admire may be friends, coworkers, or from business, religion, sports, entertainment, politics, or any walk of life.

 

Step Two:  Why Do You Admire These Persons? 

Identify and write down three characteristics that set each of these persons apart from the ordinary.

 

Step Three:  How Do You Rate Yourself?

Using a scale of 1 to 5 (5 being excellent), rate yourself against the characteristics of those whom you admire.  Write the number beside the characteristic.

 

Step Four:  List Your Desired Virtues

Make a list of the virtues by which you would like to manage your business and personal affairs.  Select your virtues from your list, Franklin’s list, my list or any other source you can find.  You need not be as ambitious as Ben Franklin or as cavalier as me.  Select as many as you think you can reasonably manage.

 

Step Five:  Devise Your Process

In some way, integrate your method for living by virtues into your daily or monthly calendar.   At the end of each year, review the process,  your progress and make adjustment.  Even if your progress is slow, or there is backsliding, you will be a better person for having engaged in the exercise.

 

Epilogue

Franklin’s words about his virtue process deserve repeating:

I determined to give a week’s strict attention to each of the virtues successively.  Thus, in the first week, my greatest guard was to avoid every least offense against Temperance, leaving the other virtues in their ordinary chance, only marking every evening the faults of the day.  Thus, if in the first week I could keep my first line, marked T, clear of spots, I supposed the habit of that virtue so much strengthened, and its opposite weakened, that I might venture extending my attention to include the next, and for the following week keep both lines clear of spots.

In truth, I found myself incorrigible with respect to Order; and now grown old, and my memory bad, I feel very sensibly the want of it.  But, on the whole, though I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious on obtaining, but I fell short of it, yet, I was, by the endeavor, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.

Those who aim at perfect writing by imitating the engraved copies, though they never reach the wished for excellence of those copies, their hand is mended by the endeavor.

 

“A penny saved is a penny earned.” – BF

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