Benjamin Franklin lived an uncommon life. One of the Founding Fathers of the United States and a noted polymath, Franklin’s inquisitiveness and inventiveness influenced American life and thought profoundly. Everywhere you turn you see evidence of Franklin’s legacy: bifocals, the public library system, police departments, volunteer fire departments, the lightning rod, an incredible literary treasure and more.
My management team and I referenced a particular project of Franklin’s called the Junto, a group of 12 friends he formed in 1727 to provide a forum for the consideration of topics that would allow them to better improve themselves, enhance their service to their community and increase their ability to help others. I shared this quote from Franklin’s autobiography, one that outlined his view of the purpose of the Junto:
I should have mentioned before, that, in the autumn of the preceding year,  I had form’d most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the Junto; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased. Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire of victory; and to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.
Franklin posed a series of questions to frame the discussion. The questions are as brilliant now as they no doubt were in his time, and I am delighted to share the first four of them with you this morning in the hope that they might stimulate your thinking:
- Have you met with any thing in the author you last read, remarkable, or suitable to be communicated to the Junto? particularly in history, morality, poetry, physics, travels, mechanic arts, or other parts of knowledge?
- What new story have you lately heard agreeable for telling in conversation?
- Hath any citizen in your knowledge failed in his business lately, and what have you heard of the cause?
- Have you lately heard of any citizen’s thriving well, and by what means?
The question I posed to my managers against the backdrop of Franklin’s inspiring words was a simple one, but much fruitful conversation ensued: “Which of the virtues do you consider most important to your department and to our company and why?” I enjoyed hearing the different responses to the question and to see how much care my team has for their peers and our clients.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Which of the virtues do you find to be most precious and most wanting in our society today?
10 thoughts on “Virtue”
I’ve always loved mercy and think it’s one of the most beautiful, powerful and generous of all the virtues – it’s one of my personal favs (although any virtue is pretty amazing)
Patience stood tall in my mind today.
As others have been patient with me, the same do I owe to all.
I give thanks for yours.
I think temperance would be my choice. The world has become a global culture of accusation, blame and fingerpointing, as if that ever solves anything. The court of public opinion is like a lynch mob; jump to a conclusion, act on it and then maybe see if you can learn the facts…not that it matters once the opinion is formed.
How different everything would be if we had the patience and maturity to learn the facts and with cool heads, open minds and a long view see what our options are.
A virtue that I have been thinking on lately is equanimity. I think this integrates nicely into the precept of the Junta that their debates were “to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire of victory”. The ability to be in the present moment without letting circumstances (or people) rile you up is something that is a key prerequisite to wisdom. I think this is something that Franklin excelled at, which is one of the reasons I believe he was such a good statesman. To be apart from any tumult that is happening around you while still being deeply invested in the outcome is something that I value greatly. Thanks for a great topic, there are many more things to be said about this!
Equanimity provides a charged field into which wisdom can be safely introduced and it is far from a passive, mamby-pamby and removed state of being. In fact, equanimity allows your to be unusually present and free of distraction, no matter what must be attended to.
Great history! I like the fact that the gathering was keen to note both successes and failures, and the why’s for both.
Respect is one that stands out for me, though your blog highlights daily many fine virtues. A sense of respect and reverence top my list.
Respect does pave the way for many other virtues!
Forgiveness. As I go through my day to day, it never ceases to amaze me how many people are holding on to past hurts and offences that pose no benefit to them or anyone around them. It seems that in our society, far too often people are very quick to point a finger or look for someone to blame for their circumstances. If we could all learn that forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves more than to anyone else and that it frees us to continue growing and becoming the best we can be, perhaps people would realize that we can simply choose to be happier and more content in whatever circumstances we find ourselves.
Excellent point, Jackie. Not to forgive is evidence of acute short-sightedness!