We all know about the man who flew his kite in a lightning storm… or if that doesn’t ring a bell, how about the man who’s face is on the currency we all want in non-sequential, unmarked bills in our briefcases? Even if you don’t know anything about Benjamin Franklin, just knowing his face is on the hundred-dollar bill should give you a pretty good idea that he was somewhat of an important person.
Benjamin Franklin had a curious and devoted nature that led to many discoveries in electricity and countless inventions ranging from bifocals to swim fins. I want to share the story of one of his many inventions, the Franklin stove, to give you a glimpse at the kind of person Franklin was.
The Franklin stove was a wonderful upgrade to the open fireplaces most people were using to heat their homes in the 1700’s. Franklin’s stove produced more heat and less smoke. In addition, the stove was made of cast iron so heat would absorb into the metal and radiate even after the fire had gone out. One day Franklin was approached by a man who wanted to help him patent the idea. Franklin would be the exclusive owner of the invention. But like a title straight from an Upworthy post, what happened next was truly inspiring. Franklin said no, citing a principle that has “ever weigh’d with [him].”
“As we enjoy great Advantages from the Inventions of others, we should be glad of an Opportunity to serve others by any Invention of ours, and this we should do freely and generously.”
Ben Franklin felt that his fireplace was an invention that should be shared freely with everyone. It saved people money and provided a better standard of living. He didn’t care about the money; he cared about the good it did for his fellow men.
As is evident in the story of the Franklin stove, Benjamin Franklin was dedicated to being the best he could be. In fact, from the young age of 20, Franklin had his sights set on moral perfection. In order to reach his goal, Franklin carried around a small notebook. In his notebook was a chart with 13 virtues in it. Franklin concluded that if he could master those 13 virtues, he would attain moral perfection.
“I conceiv’d the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any fault at any time.”
The 13 virtues Ben Franklin established are as follows:
Franklin carried his notebook around with him everywhere. Inside the notebook he had a chart with a line for each of the 13 virtues. Whenever he messed up, he would put a dot next to that virtue to signify that he had not accomplished his goal for the day. The idea was to have the least amount of dots—ideally zero—at the end of each day.
He even took things further by rotating which virtue was at the top of the chart. Each week the virtue at the top would be the one he was most focused on. After 13 weeks he would start over and continue his quest for perfection.
But alas, as you might have guessed, Ben Franklin never did achieve moral perfection.
“Tho’ I never arrived at the perfection I had been so ambitious of obtaining, but fell far short of it, yet I was, by the endeavour, a better and happier man than I otherwise should have been if I had not attempted it.
History is full of successful people who advocate the practice of keeping a journal of some kind. There is power in being accountable to ourselves and hashing out our thoughts. Though Franklin used a physical notebook, we live in a day and age run by computers, and many people find it more convenient to journal digitally. Enter Degreed.
I have been quite inspired by Franklin’s devotion to becoming better. I’m all about that ‘being a happier person’ stuff. There is much to learn regarding moral perfection and a lot of it is available on the Internet. So I have created a Moral Perfection Pathway over at Degreed.com. I know I won’t be as diligent as Ben Franklin was, but this is something I believe in, and I will continue to update and improve the pathway as I find more worthwhile materials.
Also, S/O to Art of Manliness for opening my eyes to Benjamin Franklin’s story.