Benjamin Franklin’s 13 Virtues – 1st Virtue – Temperence

The great inventor, statesman, and brother Freemason, Benjamin Franklin, was well known as an individual of improvement. He was the epitome of free-thinking, innovation, and constructive analysis. Though he still maintained that he had many faults, the man was also bent on improving his being and his community. As a statesman, he made many a contribution to this country’s growth particularly in his home city and state (which he often professed a great love for). When most people envision Brother Franklin, they see the over-used image of the man holding onto a kite string with a key attached and lightning striking it. While this was indeed one of his experiments with electricity, it was not, in my humble opinion, one of his most significant contributions. Very few people are actually aware of that which I deem his greatest gift to Mankind. I didn’t know it existed until just a few weeks ago while reading his autobiography (which I must recommend to all who are curious).

Benjamin Franklin was concerned with his mortal state of fallibility. He was a man of conscious effort in all things, particularly self-improvement. He founded, or was part of founding, organizations determined to cause one to step beyond empirical thought, to see beyond oneself and to theorize and develop a concept for a better self and community. Many such organizations continued on after his death, and almost all of them continued through his life. He was the founding father of our public libraries. He aided in the development of public schools. He revolutionized the newspaper. But what I’m most impressed with is his 13 Virtues.

These virtues are Temperance, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Moderation, Industry, Cleanliness, Tranquility, Silence, Sincerity, Justice, Chastity and Humility. Brother Franklin thought of these as things to achieve within himself. They weren’t just lip service as he actually strove to implement them into his being and conduct. He created a chart that he checked off daily looking for every opportunity to improve in each area. He focused heavily on each virtue until he felt that he could move on to the next one and still retain the previous in his daily conduct and thought. And there was no mistake in the order in which he listed them either. To present yourself in such a manner as was more socially acceptable (and thus work on improving the more social virtues) it becomes imperative to first develop the personal character-related virtues within yourself.

So it is that I am going to deliver articles to help us, as Freemasons and Men, improve ourselves in these virtues throughout the year. The first of these being Temperance; let us define then this virtue to begin the process. Our next article will expound on it, and so on until we have a few weeks of practice under our belts. At which time, I would urge you to seriously consider your progress before we move on to Order.

Merriam Webster Dictionary defines temperance as:

1: moderation in action, thought, or feeling: restraint

a: habitual moderation in the indulgence of the appetites or passions
b: moderation in or abstinence from the use of alcoholic beverages

Benjamin Franklin defined it for himself as: Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation. While Brother Franklin did not always succeed at this (he was often found dining finely, drinking, and womanizing) his intention was pure, and within his autobiography, he mentions how he never quite mastered the art, but he always tried.

To me, temperance is the most difficult of all the Virtues for a modern man to master. We are bombarded by advertisements inciting gluttony and over-indulgence. We are given quick fixes for answering such adverts and thus feeling remorse in the promises of gym memberships, diet pills and exercise programs that are actually created more to generate a monetary gain for those inventors than benefit us. We are subjected to addictive substances and through media, perceptions or the direct influence of those we consider mentors consider them to be cool or necessary. Thus we find ourselves caught up in the simple niceties of life and fail to practice that which will deliver us a more balanced and permanent state of happiness.

To me, temperance is more simply put as self-control. It requires admirable restraint not to over-eat when the meal is delicious and a rare treat. It requires excellent self-control to give up habits that aren’t healthy. It requires great self-control to place oneself on an exercise program that feeds the body its proper endorphins and trains it to utilize the fuel appropriately provided. It requires great restraint not to drink oneself into a stupor to escape the hardships and challenges of Life, or worse yet, just for the fun of it.

Consider these things, my brothers. My challenge to you is to begin practicing temperance in your daily life and in all things. Thus we start our journey.

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