Franklin's 13 Virtues

In 1726, Benjamin Franklin created a list of thirteen virtues to regulate his personal conduct. He did this by creating a small book, each with the description of a virtue at the top and a grid of seven days and 13 virtues for the rest of the page, and he kept this book in his pocket. At the end of each day, he looked at the column for that day and made a mark on each virtue that he felt he failed to uphold or came short in fulfilling. The goal was to better himself by recognizing his personal shortcomings that he could correct and, of course, correcting them.

The thirteen virtues are:

  1. [ T ] Temperance: Eat not to dullness and drink not to elevation.
  2. [ S ] Silence: Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself. Avoid trifling conversation.
  3. [ O ] Order: Let all your things have their places. Let each part of your business have its time.
  4. [ R ] Resolution: Resolve to perform what you ought. Perform without fail what you resolve.
  5. [ F ] Frugality: Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself: i.e. Waste nothing.
  6. [ I ] Industry: Lose no time. Be always employed in something useful. Cut off all unnecessary actions.
  7. [ S ] Sincerity: Use no hurtful deceit. Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
  8. [ J ] Justice: Wrong none, by doing injuries or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
  9. [ M ] Moderation: Avoid extremes. Forebear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. [ Cl ] Cleanliness: Tolerate no uncleanness in body, clothes or habitation.
  11. [ T ] Tranquility: Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. [ Ch ] 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.
  13. [ H ] Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Each letter or pair in brackets above represents what was written as an identifier on each virtue row.

Franklin tracked his progress through a book of 13 charts, each describing a virtue, and each book representing 13 weeks or one season. At the conclusion of each, he repeated this course, completing four per year. Eventually, as the need lessened and he found himself marking fewer faults, he went through the series progressively less frequently until he stopped altogether. But he still carried the book as a reminder.

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