How to Attain moral Perfection — Benjamin Franklin

If you have read the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, this article may be familiar to you. If you haven’t read it, then you will, after reading this post.

Benjamin Franklin, in his autobiography, has explained about success and failures in the journey of his life. He had a very organized life. People are crazy about To-Do lists these days, but can you imagine he had a to-do list in the 18th century? That is just one example. There are 100's of things he has tried and tested in improving his life.

In his autobiography, under the chapter attaining moral perfection, here’s what Benjamin Franklin says:

IT was about this time I conceived the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish’d to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other. But I soon found I had undertaken a task of more difficulty than I had imagined. While my care was employ’d in guarding against one fault, I was often surprised by another; habit took the advantage of inattention; inclination was sometimes too strong for reason. I concluded, at length, that the mere speculative conviction that it was our interest to be completely virtuous, was not sufficient to prevent our slipping; and that the contrary habits must be broken, and good ones acquired and established, before we can have any dependence on a steady, uniform rectitude of conduct.

Here are the 13 virtues for attaining moral perfection:

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

Albeit, he tried very hard, he couldn’t be a perfectionist.

Benjamin maintained a booklet with all the above virtues and tried to master them one by one, one virtue a week. The first week is for Temperance. Every time he made a mistake, he would put a black mark for that day. So, he should not have any black spots for Temperance for the whole week. The next week, he would take both Temperance and Silence and master them. And so it would continue till the last. During the course of this self-examination, he found out that he had more faults in himself than he had imagined.

Albeit, he tried very hard, he couldn’t be a perfectionist. He says, mastering Order was most difficult for him, as you can not expect your whole day to go as you planned it. It took him a year to complete one cycle of the virtues and the next one took several years, says he. He also explains by a story how people like things the way they are than changing them. His neighbor wanted to buy an axe from a smith, he wanted the whole axe as bright as the edge of the axe. So, the smith agrees and he starts working on it. After sometime, the man takes the axe back without completing the work, for which he answers, he likes the speckled axe better than a brighter one.

So, it’s not only Benjamin Franklin and his neighbor. Maybe we all are like that. Maybe we just like to be the way we are. We try too hard to change ourselves into something that we aren’t. But, ultimately, we are who we are. And we are perfect just the way we are.