I am thrilled to have just started a new biography: ‘Benjamin Franklin: An American Life’ by Walter Isaacson. Isaacson, has also written biographies of Einstein (which I absolutely adore and highly recommend), Steve Jobs (which I have not yet finished) and Kissinger. So, I am excited to get started on the story of Benjamin Franklin. The publisher’s note describes him as “the founding father who winks at us”. Indeed, I have been fascinated with Benjamin Franklin since childhood.
Growing up on the Caribbean island of Antigua, two years of my early education were spent at a church-run school, St. John’s Lutheran. For better or for worse, the American-run school had the unusual feature of a 100% U.S. curriculum. In history class, we learned about the Unites States founding fathers. I read about Benjamin Franklin’s inventions and misadventures, and about his famous publication “Poor Richard’s Almanack”. A truly self-made man, Benjamin Franklin was a noted scientist, inventor, statesman and diplomat; he invented the lightning rod and bifocals, and was one of the Committee of Five that drafted the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
Born into a large Boston family in 1706, Benjamin Franklin focused early on the importance of developing character. As a young man, Franklin composed a list of thirteen virtues: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. He believed that these were the qualities to strive for in order to live a good life. He carried checklists of these virtues in his pockets for many years, and tried to live by them until his death at age 84.
Although he lived over 300 years ago, Benjamin Franklin‘s pithy wisdom continues to permeate modern life. He left a legacy of political, scientific and social achievement. He is noted as the first to outline the social concept of “paying it forward”. Having coined the slightly misquoted aphorism “a penny saved is a penny earned”, his image adorns US $100 notes today. He also believed in rising early (see my post about getting up early here). Who does not remember hearing his axiom “Early to bed, early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise”? .
In studying the life of Benjamin Franklin, we discover that he believed that being healthy, wealthy and wise lay not only in rising early, but also in doing good. His formula for success included starting each day at 5am and asking the essential question “What good shall I do today?”. He believed that grand accomplishments are not achieved overnight, but take place by slowing building character by doing smaller daily good. What good will you do today?