Trying to Follow Ben Franklin’s Plan by Bob Lowry

Trying to Follow Ben Franklin’s Plan by Bob Lowry

Ben Franklin was a man who had an oversized impact on the beginnings of our country. He is considered to be one of the Founding Fathers. Wikipedia lists his accomplishments as being an author, printer, political theorist, postmaster, scientist (think kite and lightning), inventor, statesman, and diplomat.

He gave us the memorable quotes, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn; by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail; they who give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”

In 1726, while only 20 years old, he wrote a book that continues to sell today. He listed 13 virtues that he was determined to follow in his quest for moral perfection. Later in life he admitted he was not able to keep all the virtues completely, but was sure he lived a happier and more productive life just from making the attempt. His baker’s dozen included:

  1. temperance
  2. silence
  3. order
  4. resolution
  5. frugality
  6. industry
  7. sincerity
  8. justice
  9. moderation
  10. cleanliness
  11. tranquility
  12. chastity
  13. humility
 
For our purposes I want to highlight just five of his traits and draw a connection to a satisfying retirement.
Temperance: Though akin to another word on his list, moderation, this word implies not overeating or overdrinking by showing self restraint. For our purposes, I see this virtue as being part of our overall attempt to maintain our health. As we age our body’s metabolism slows down. We must eat less or burn more calories. We also lose muscle mass and the ability to process oxygen as well. Regular exercise is a requirement, not an option.   
 
Frugality: This is a word that has gotten a bad reputation. Frugality doesn’t mean reusing paper towels, living in a tent, or keeping your possessions in a duffle bag. It does mean the acceptance of the limits of one’s financial resources and living within those constraints. Ultimately, it means understanding the difference between needs and wants and satisfying the true wants after needs are accounted for. It doesn’t have to mean doing without; it does mean eliminating waste and cutting back where possible.
 
Industry: He said, “Lose no time. be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.” Ben was referring to hard work and dedication to the task at hand. Today, we may use the words energy or vigor to describe this attribute. It means working for what we want until the job is finished to our satisfaction. It would be the opposite of laziness. 
 
Moderation: Like the first virtue, temperance, though usually we think of this as covering more ground. Moderation in everything, including moderation, is one of the keys to happiness and contentment. He says we must “avoid extremes.” 

Tranquility: Being peaceful or calm are two personality traits that are often in short supply in our lives. Of course, the virtue of industry teaches us that there are times when hard work and dedication to the task at hand are necessary. But, for too many of us, that highly-stressed, use-every-moment-to-be productive attitude is our setting for every moment we are awake. That results in burnout and health problems. As Mr. Franklin said, “be not concerned with trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.”
Someday I may write about  the remaining virtues (though chastity may be difficult to tackle, especially for a man who wrote a rather famous letter entitled, “Advice to a Friend on Choosing a Mistress” ). He owned several slaves, so his list of virtues was missing at least one key component.

Even with those shortcomings, Ben Franklin’s is as good a list as any to ponder about how to make our lives more satisfying and meaningful.

By Bob Lowry

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