Benjamin Franklin needs no introduction.
We all have heard about him but I am not sure how much we really know about his life and activities.
A thinker, inventor, scientist, publisher, writer, diplomat, advisory, soldier, founder of hospitals and libraries, designer of bills, member of the assembly, and more.
You might have skimmed through these words without actually reading them.
I do the same when I read about someone great on Wikipedia — they always seem to have accomplished so much in different areas.
But when you read about their personal life, sometimes their autobiography, you understand that they were also humans like us. You start relating to them.
Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography was one such read.
His disciplines and manners — if practiced — can really shake up the current world and our restless generations.
Let us look at some of his stories.
1. He turned into a vegetarian because he believed that eating animals was committing murders as the poor animals could not do anything. Once, he was eating fish with some people. He — being a great lover of fish — was having a hard time controlling himself. Then they cut open the fish and found other small fishes inside. He thought, if they could eat each other, he could eat them as well.
He said, “Convenient it is to be a reasonable creature. Since it enables ones to find or make reasons for everything one has a mind to do.”
Lesson 1 — Accepting the cardinal human nature makes everything easier.
2. He was hell-bent on improving himself. He compiled thirteen(13) virtues that he wished to adhere to and noted down in his diary. If someday he did not behave in accordance with any of them, he would mark against that virtue with a cross.
When a great man, whose life was buzzing with activities, could work on his character so diligently — by making rules, noting them down in a book, by following them, and then by being upset when he could not do the same — why can’t we?
Lesson 2 — We can better ourselves each day if we focus.
3. He had noted down twelve virtues, to begin with, but when a friend told him that he was proud, he added another virtue, humility.
He made rules such as to never say certain words and never contradict anybody immediately — as those could be taken as practices of a proud man.
Pride starts overshadowing other virtues. No matter how successful you are, others around you are going to get annoyed with your pride.
Lesson 3 — If corrected, we should accept our shortcomings and improve ourselves.
Lesson 4 — A proud being is a mood killer.
4. His acceptance of reality and his deep thoughts would easily amaze you.
“In reality, there is perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. For, even I could conceive, that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.”
Lesson 5 — Pride puts up a strong fight. We would have to fight even harder.
5. While practicing his virtues diligently he was upset that he was not as disciplined and perfect as he wanted to be. Then he realized that he did not want to be that perfect as it would cause jealousy and envy in people close to him — thus pushing them away.
Lesson 6 — We might think that our decisions and success are only ours but people around us form a way into our lives, more than we can imagine. Eventually affecting everything that we do. And that is how it should be.
6. His determination was as strong as the coconut that falls on someone’s head but still does not break.
“One man of tolerable abilities may accomplish great affairs, if he first forms a good plan, and, cutting off all amusements or other employments that would divert his attention, makes the execution of that same plan his sole study and business.”
We keep thinking of burning the rice when we have not started cooking the pot.
The only thing you are scared of — is your own self — if you would be able to devote yourself to the goal you have set?
Lesson 7 — We can achieve anything with hard work, focus, and determination.
Lesson 8 — Let us not doubt ourselves.
7. He started learning languages and became proficient in French, Italian, Spanish, and Latin.
One of his acquaintance who was also learning Italian with him liked playing chess. The game started taking so much time that Benjamin started avoiding it but then he thought of a strategy. The victor could induce a language challenge on the other person, which had to be fulfilled by the next game or no game.
This encouraged them to practice more while continue playing.
Given he was already an expert in many areas — his diligence and zeal to learn are admirable. He was not born to do everything that he did, he slowly climbed up the ladder.
Lesson 9 — You should never stop learning.
8. Have a look at his daily routine.
He followed it strictly every day without fail.
At the beginning of the day, he asked himself, what good shall I do this day?
And at the end of the day, he asked himself, what good have I done today?
He made sure that he added value to each day.
Lesson 10 — Take day by day. Each day matters.
Lesson 11 — Discipline is the key.
9. He focused on minor activities such as sweeping the dust and mud off the roads before the shops opened. He said that the effect of dust being blown into a person’s eye or in a shop — when combined for a big city like London — is of importance.
Quoting him, “Human felicity is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen, as by little advantages that occur every day.”
It is time for me to resolve that annoying Mac Cleaner notification that pops up frequently.
Lesson 12 — Small improvements make us feel better in everyday life rather than climbing Mt Kilimanjaro once a year.
Lesson 13 — We should not just think about ourselves. The whole world could use our help.
10. While solving a problem he explored all the possibilities through the lens of common sense, practicality, simplicity, and human nature. He had his own definition of right and wrong.
A minister complaint to him that the soldiers were not attending the service. He suggested the minister provide their daily quota of rum right after the service instead of mornings and evenings.
Lesson 14 — Humor the problem. Focus on solving it rather than on the obstacles that are in the way.
11. His curious mind made him think about every problem. Though he knew he could not take up all of them.
He first explains how the engineer of a ship should think and then said,
“I am persuaded, therefore, that ere long some ingenious philosopher will undertake it, to whom I wish success.”
Lesson 15 — Not every problem is ours.
12. He helped many people indirectly when he could not directly favor them. He did not care for being credited for the favors he did.
Now, we never want to do anything for free for anybody. We want the credit before we even do anything.
Isn’t the basic nature of life to live together and help each other? Are we moving towards an extremely selfish and self-centered society?
Lesson 16 — Let us not make credit the reason to help. Because then if credit leaves, humanity follows.
13. He performed his activities as if he had eight arms like an octopus but he still took upon his duty as a soldier while the war lasted.
Lesson 17 — No one is above or below any duty which might fall upon him or his environment.
14. He avoided giving justifications for his actions. He acknowledged that justifications might create more confusion and further debates. Instead, he focused on his work.
A French scientist wrote letters to Benjamin denying the verity of his electrical experiments and defending his own theory. He ignored his letters. Instead he focused his energy and time on conducting more experiments.
Lesson 18 — If we start fighting, there are many tongues which are ready to reciprocate maliciously. Let us keep steering in the right direction.
15. He performed well in different spheres of life, arts, nature, politics, and science. He never looked at his achievements as achievements. He looked at everything as a task that fell on him, and that it was his responsibility to finish it.
When I keep thinking about my goals such as penning down the next Alchemist, I am the least productive.
But when I focus on writing and can wind away these thoughts, everything seems to fall into place.
Lesson 19 — We think of achievements first and then delve into work. If we focus on work, achievements would fall in line.
16. He said, “You may delay, but time will not.”
Lesson 20 — Let us value time for it does not wait for anyone.
From a school drop out to the Founder of America — he treaded a long steep journey.
He made everything — no matter how complex it was — look simple.
We would never be able to quantitatively assess the impact that he had on the world and its countless people.
Let us do what he did — make the world a better place to live.
Happy New Year 🙂