Project Perfection

[Note – This entry was inspired by my mother who has long exhorted me to be a “better” person, the best person I could possibly be.]

benjamin_franklin_portraitIn his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin acknowledged he set out at an early age to attain “moral Perfection,” only to ultimately conclude it was not something to be achieved.  That said, he also believed he was better off for having made the attempt.  I find Mr. Franklin’s pursuit highly commendable. To have been so profoundly concerned with an unequivocal morality, to have set so lofty a goal and held himself to such account, speaks volumes as to the merits he attributed to one’s character.

Mr. Franklin embarked on what he described as a “bold and arduous Project” to identify the standard for – and achieve – perfection.  He was, after all, an avid and accomplished scientist and inventor, was he not?  Hence he compiled a list of 13 Virtues and developed a report card of sorts, to annotate those times he failed to meet a standard for any given virtue.  He would literally record his daily missteps.

Imagine doing that today.  I, personally, don’t think I would be pleased with my results.  My scorecard would likely compare to a really bad day on the golf course.  Then, again, who’s keeping score?  Well, Mr. Franklin did, and he found he could not pass his own test.  Oh, he wanted to, and he tried really hard – probably harder than most – yet, ultimately, even inevitably, he fell short. Regardless, he believed he was a better person, a better member of society, for having set course and sailed.

What follows are the 13 Virtues Mr. Franklin identified and his corresponding definitions.  Some of mine are on his list; some are not.  I encourage you to create your own lists and endeavor to hold yourselves to account.  Mr. Franklin, by his own admission, was imperfect.  Not one of us has, nor ever will achieve perfection over the course of our lives; hence, we will always live in an imperfect world.  But, if we embrace a greater sense of purpose, aspire to be people of great character, and resolve to inspire others to do the same, our society will be “better” than it otherwise would.  Now, if that could be our legacy!

As Mr. Franklin said, “I hope, therefore, that some of my descendants may follow the example and reap the benefit.”

  • Temperance.  Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
  • Silence.  Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
  • Order.  Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
  • Resolution.  Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
  • Frugality.  Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; i.e. waste nothing.
  • Industry.  Lose no time; be always employ’d in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
  • Sincerity.  Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  • Justice.  Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  • Moderation.  Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  • Cleanliness.  Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, cloathes, or habitation.
  • Tranquility.  Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  • 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.
  • Humility.  Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
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