Success: Ben Franklin Style

In Benjamin Franklin’s The Art of Virtue, he offers us concrete advice in the form of thirteen virtues required to attain genuine success.  What are they?

Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquility, Chastity, Humility.

I love the advice in Humility which is to imitate Jesus and Socrates and would like to start there, but I’m going to exercise restraint (needed to wrap my mind around all this in view of career/writing), start at the beginning of the list, and work through it.

Temperance. Defined technically as moderation, especially in “eating and drinking.”

There’s wisdom in that moderation, but it stops too short.  If we apply moderation more broadly, then what we’re really doing is giving ourselves room to integrate balance.  We all know what lives and careers are like when we’re not balanced.  We’re stressed, tense, likely candidates for being maxed or burned out.  But balanced, we are mentally, emotionally, and physically stable.  We’re better equipped to deal with challenges and to handle success, well, successfully.

Success and its absence each carry equal but different challenges and joys.  So balance is essential to our well being, and moderation, or temperance, is essential to balance.

So don’t apply temperance just to food and drink.  If you do, you’re shorting yourself.  Apply it broadly, knowing that in doing so, you’re increasing success on both a personal and a professional level.  And you’re doing so by integrating temperance.

Silence. So many people underestimate the power of silence.  Don’t be one of them.  Silence can express approval or disapproval.  It can start or stop a disagreement.  We’re warned that our tongues get us into more trouble than our acts.  What we speak carries power and authority and consequences.

We’ve all heard the term “rush to judgment.”  At one time, we were sick to death of hearing it.  From our characters to ourselves, when engaged in conversation, negotiations, discussions, when silence comes, our instinctive reaction is to fill it.  Typically, when we do, we’re not pausing to fully consider the weight of our words, or the intended or unintended consequences.

Silence can speak volumes.  It can grant peace or urge others to act or behave in a specific way.  It can give others the opportunity to pause and weigh the consequences, intended and unintended, of their words and actions.

Let me share a couple examples.  In a radio interview once, a host stepped over the line.  I could have fired off a blistering retort.  But if I had, my message would have been lost.  Listeners might have enjoyed it, but they would not have gotten the bigger message and that was the purpose of the discussion.  The host would have looked bad.  Really bad.  Making someone else look bad is never a good idea.  It’s tacky, testy, and just plain mean.  So I opted for silence.

Well, silence on the radio means dead air.  One thing radio cannot have is dead air.  Since I didn’t fill it, the host did, and did so in an amazingly more congenial tone.  You see, in that pause, the host realized my response would make him look bad, and honestly, he might or might not have hoped for an angry response.  But in not getting one, in getting silence, the onus fell back to him.  In one glance, he knew that while the bait had been noted, that it was bait had also been noted, and I wasn’t going to swallow it.  Silence did more than a shouting match could have done.  He paused, he thought, he elected to be civil and he did so knowing that I could have zapped him and didn’t.  The interview not only continued on message, it went longer than expected and ended on good terms.  What could have been a lose/lose situation became a win/win situation.  Not by what was said, but by silence.

In the realm of disagreements and personal relationships, we all know there are millions of times when there is no right thing to say.  When anything said will inflame or infuriate.  When silence is indeed the best available option.  Like everything else, silence has its season.  There are times to speak up, and times to stay silent.

Not silent and seething.  Silent and peaceful.  Because you understand another’s perspective, because you realize there are added stressors that have nothing to do with the current disagreement.  Because silence is, for whatever reason, the right thing to do.

Have you ever been in an intense conversation and the other party looks away.  Do you remember the powerful impact of that?

Have you ever felt so overwhelmed, so sad or hurt or discouraged or in such deep emotional pain that you’d cry out for help but you’re so down you have no idea what to ask for?  No clue what it will take to make things right?  You mentally search and search and end up not uttering the first word because your stuck and can’t find the word you need to convey all you’re internally feeling.  Silence.

Have you ever said something you wished you hadn’t?  Said something that was wrong or hurtful or that created or perpetuated a circumstance or event that you wished you could take back, could have avoided?  Silence.

The less said on some things the better.  Words can harm or heal.  Injure or refresh.  Infuriate or soothe.  (Note that balance–either or, one or the other.)  Words are the outward manifestation of internalized thoughts.  We think it, then speak it.

In the interim silence, we hear and then process what is spoken, and then we react to it.  Words can be a blessing or a curse.  They can invite or shun goodness or evil.

We deal with the results of our words all the time.  So considering them warrants thought and consideration.  If we’re dealing with more negatives than we’d like, with more curses than blessings, and we want to change that balance, then we might want to remember that silence is golden.

A perk that comes with that due thought and consideration is that we speak less to regret, we avoid many unintended circumstances, and when we do speak up or out, others tend to really listen.  And those things add sparkle to the gold in silence.

Order. Whether it’s order in our personal lives or in our professional lives, we appreciate the benefits of order.  We like finding what we’re looking for, we like knowing where what we need is located, we appreciate the time we spend constructively rather than wasted because we’re functioning in crisis-mode, in chaos.

Some say they’re free spirits, they detest the rigidity in structure, they like living on the edge, being constantly surprised.  In some things, those adventures can appeal.  But those same free spirits who detest rigidity in structure wouldn’t have that attitude if they say, needed immediate medical attention and the emergency room was in chaos, or the grocery store was in such disorder that the needed items couldn’t be found because they hadn’t been ordered or delivered or put on the shelf. They wouldn’t like it if their bank was in such disarray that it couldn’t process their deposits to cover their checks or prepare their statements.

In writing, without order, what the writer is hoping to communicate can’t be understood.  The characters lack credibility because they’re acting on motivations that aren’t clear.  The sequence of events are out of step and because they are they make no sense. The writer’s message is lost.

Even those who hate order need order in their lives.  A big misconception is that order restricts when the exact opposite is true.  Order liberates.

Time not spent looking for things is free to be used on other things.  Order provides a framework in which we can function.  The absence of order is like playing a game where you don’t know the rules.  You can’t win or lose because the game can’t be played.

Imagine trying to accomplish a goal, to realize a dream, to reach new heights that every atom in your being urges you to reach without order.

You can’t develop a plan, you can’t take concrete steps to make that dream a reality, you can’t stretch because the space needed to do so is filled with the clutter of disorder.

When you “get your house in order” you pave the way for the mundane and ordinary to be just that.  Expected.  Done quickly because you know what needs doing, when it needs to be done, and so you do it and then those things are done and you’re free to move on to other things.  There is goodness and joy in the ordinary as well as the extraordinary.  We can look at clean floors and feel good because our kids or grans or our spouses or parents aren’t tiptoeing through clutter.

Now before you minimize the importance of those clean floors, let me ask you this:  Have you ever tried to blaze a trail through a floor filled with clutter?  Have you ever tried to focus on something really important to you but couldn’t because ten other things were screaming at you inside your head that they needed to be done–now?  Have you ever tried to make sense of something that was in total disorder?

I remember once pulling an audit on an escrow office that was in total disarray.  Multiple sets of books, multiple policies issued under one number, multiple everything.  I ended up having to go back years, to when the disorder started, work with a calendar and four colored pens to figure out exactly what happened and why and when.  It took months to get that house in order, but once it was, it took snippets of time to maintain.  Cutting through the clutter took effort and energy and tons of patience, but the lesson was well worth learning.  If you get your house in order and keep your house in order then you don’t spend all your time in frustrated disorder.  You’re free from that bondage.  You’re liberated.  And liberated, you can use that time for other constructive purposes–including time to dream.

Imagine writing an entire book without punctuation.  We all know that one comma can totally change the meaning of a sentence.  What do you think the odds are for a reader to understand a entire book with no punctuation?  Would your purpose in writing it be fulfilled?  Would it be successful at offering insights, understanding?  Would it open the door in a closed mind–or even have that potential?

No.  All of the hopes and dreams for that work would be lost.  No one could make heads or tails of reading it other than to identify the words.  The punctuation instills order.  It allows us to share what we want to share by structuring the work so that it relates what we mean for it to relate and it makes sense to readers.   When we convey what we want to convey in a way that can be comprehended and understood, well, that’s success.

We tend to extend our personal habits to our professional ones.  If we get our personal house in order, typically that carries over into our professional lives.  When our personal and professional lives are in order, we are more apt to succeed–and to dream bigger dreams because we have the time saved from the lack of disarray.  We’re free from disorder and its many frustrations.  We’re enjoying the blessings of order.

Resolution. When we are resolved, we endure, we sacrifice, we push through obstacles, walk extra miles.  We do what we must do because we are determined, fixated, motivated.  We do what we must do because we’re resolved.

Few good things in life come without effort and focus. We’ve all heard the old saying about the harder we work, the luckier we get.  I don’t recall  who first said it but credit him/her with saying it and thank him/her for providing the rest of us with an important key to success.  When we’re resolved, we’re exercising restraint, self-control, discipline.  We’re exercising temperance and resolve.  (Note how the virtues work together, in harmony.)

If instead when the going gets tough, we walk, we’re exercising the lack of those things and that lack of resolve assures that we’ll fail to achieve the success we’re seeking.

Now if we fail and pull back, regroup, and seek constructive ways to avoid mistakes and succeed, that takes resolve.  And that isn’t truly failure because we’ve gained wisdom and knowledge:  things required to assure that our next effort doesn’t fail due to us making the same mistakes.  If we exercise enough of these types of failures and we actively continue our pursuit, eventually we will “fail” our way to success.

With each attempt and “failure” and reassessment, we don’t repeat our same mistakes.  We might make new ones, but again, when we fall back and regroup, try again, we filter out mistakes and eventually succeed.  The key to success is resolve.  We don’t fail, fall back, and quit.  We analyze, figure out where we went wrong, develop a plan that avoids those mistakes, and then try again.

Success comes in trying again.  That’s exercising resolve.

Remember:  if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.  If it isn’t worth doing well, why do it at all?  You’re investing your time–your life–your most precious commodity and to invest something so precious it’s life’s treasure, you should be investing in something worth such an investment.

So resolve is essential.  But in what you invest requires your resolve, too.   And that’s the part that too often falls to convenience’s sake, expediency’s sake.  If I do this or that, maybe I can accomplish x.  That’s not resolve.  That’s settling.

Resolve is going after that which you most want.  Not settling for what you can get.  You were created for purpose.  Your destiny isn’t to settle.  It’s to excel.  To excel requires you to heed the virtues.  In doing so you increase your odds for real success, your best success, because you’re working in harmony with the totality of those virtues.

Think of this as a round bench with seven legs.  Each leg carries a portion of the weight placed on the bench.  Each leg keeps it balanced and level, makes it sturdy and strong.  Take out a leg or two or  five (due to neglect or damage or lack of interest), and then ask yourself:  Will the bench will hold as

much weight?  Will it have the strength to support major success?  Your destiny?

The weakened bench might hold a little weight.  It might even hold a little more than a little weight.  But it will not hold the most weight.  It can’t.  It’s weaker.  So to achieve major success, your very best, all of your personal destiny, you need all seven legs in place, tended to, and strong.  Then you’re in a position to enjoy the full fruits of your personal destiny.  Your greatest success.

Resolve is required.  No one achieves their best with half-hearted attempts.  Running a scatter-gun approach.  Dipping in a toe.  Making a single attempt.  Lacking total commitment.

This is why it is critical we decide specifically how we define success and what we consider our greatest success.  Defined and identified, then we’re in a position to commit and to plan the means for achieving our success.  Then we look at that plan in light of the virtues and make sure each leg on our personal stool stands strong and bears its weight.  That the supports are present and secured in place.

Then we can resolve to be resolved.

One of the most damaging phrases to success I’ve ever heard is, “I’ll try.”

“I’ll try,” implies effort but also doubt.  Doubt feeds fear, and fear undermines success.  It holds you back.  It openly states a lack of faith, commitment, and resolve.

Make your resolution.  Write it down.  When doubt encroaches–and it will–refute it.  Double your resolve.  And claim your success.  It is your destiny.

Frugality. We’re all familiar with the challenges that come with excessive spending.  With waste.  Whether it’s wasting money, energy, or time.

Growing up, the first financial lesson my parents taught me was to tithe.  The second lesson was that you never spend all of what you make.  Whatever you earn, you live beneath your means and save a portion of whatever you earn.

Those were lessons for which I’ve always been grateful, and ones I wish my parents had taught others, including our leadership, which even after seeing the fallout of not doing so has continued to live above its means.

There are huge benefits in frugality.  I’m not suggesting that we all become cheap, or that we do everything on the cheap.  I don’t believe that’s what Franklin meant, and I know it isn’t what I mean.

Frugality is avoiding waste and abuse, it’s spending wisely, thoughtfully, purposefully.  And frugality isn’t limited to money, though the wisdom of the virtue there is certainly clear.  It’s about any and all commodities you possess.

Your time, for example.  Be frugal with your time, avoiding waste or abuse in it, spending it wisely, purposefully and thoughtfully, and you’ve created an atmosphere conducive to success.

Your possessions.  Avoid  wasting what you have, abusing it, and you retain more longer, you also prove trustworthy as a steward for more.

In your job, if you’re frugal–not wasting or abusing your boss’ resources, the time for which you’re being paid, the products you provide, the services you render–you’re a good employee.  Trusted, singled out for promotion because you are invested and treating your employer and his resources with the same respect and regard you do your own.

Frugality doesn’t mean to short-change or short-cut, or to undercut quality.  It means to seek only quality.  Quality time, quality use, quality for effort expended.

Quality is elevated in frugality because the negative opposites of it are eliminated.  Can or will you eliminate all?  Probably not, but you can do your best to do so.  And that is an environment that invites success.

Industry. An industrious young man took risks.  Many claimed he was crazy, wasting his time.  He was called a radical, an upstart.  He made waves, challenged the status quo, angered many people, and his impact is still felt some two thousand years later.  He was industrious.

He embraced virtues and acted.  And therein lies a good lesson for us all.

You can have a fantastic idea, but if you don’t analyze it, weigh its value, consider its risks, its potential benefits–do your homework–and then act to manifest it, all you have is an idea.  It won’t manifest because it can’t.

Likewise, if you don’t weigh and consider every facet you can reasonably weigh and consider, at best you have a half-baked idea that might or might not enjoy some success.

Great success historically requires thinking outside the box, but it requires thinking inside the box, too.  You’ve heard it said that there’s no need to constantly reinvent the wheel.  But there is or could be value in improving what exists, in honing and making a better wheel.  So don’t misunderstand the dynamic.  Thinking outside the box can be beneficial, but it can also be a diversionary tactic.  One that claims your imagination, your energy and effort, and actually deters you from your greatest success because in the end what you achieve isn’t necessarily better only different.

Industrious seeks better.  In simplistic terms, Ben Franklin had poor eyesight.  He was self-taught.  Being self-taught meant extensive reading.  Extensive reading during only daylight hours limited the time he could invest in learning.  Need motivated him to become industrious to increase the time available for learning.  Candles and poor eyesight were obstacles.  But this industrious man considered the challenges and found ways to overcome them.  He did extensive work on glasses and electricity–and on many other things.  He thought outside the box but also inside the box.  A need that needed to be filled.  An obstacle that required a solution.  To fulfill those needs and solve the challenges in those obstacles, he became industrious.  And because he did, he benefited and so do we.

Sincerity. This virtue is hugely underestimated today, and that is in no small part a direct result of the existing culture of greed and corruption.  We’ve learned to be suspicious, to doubt others’ word, to be wary of scammers and thieves of property and even identity.  We know that there are those among us who make careers out of beating the system, using what was intended for good in ways that personally benefit–legal or not.

Two examples.  Hawaii had a program where it picked up half the fees for kids without insurance, so they could see doctors and get meds and be cared for.  It was working out great.  Children who needed care were getting it.  But soon parents who had insurance for their own children dropped those policies.  It benefitted them not to pay for their kids’ insurance when the state would pay those expenses for them.  After just seven months, Hawaii had to drop the project.  You see, the program was designed to help those children who otherwise couldn’t get what they needed.  It wasn’t designed to help those who could get what they needed but were born to parents who expected the state to absorb their parental responsibilities.  So before the program could bankrupt the state, it had to be stopped.

The parents who elected to abuse the system caused its elimination.  That was a lack of sincerity that caused traumatic consequences.

Now some would say, why should I pay for what others get for free?  Where is the sincerity or justice in that?

To them, I say, these were children, not able adults unwilling to work or adults who live with a sense of entitlement–as if others owe them something.  Perhaps their parents didn’t make wise choices, perhaps their parents lacked sincerity, but that’s not the issue.  Those parents might or might not have had extenuating circumstances that put them in a horrific position.  But that isn’t germane in this case, either.  What is germane is that it was the children who were impacted and the children who suffered the consequences of the lack of sincerity–regardless of its source.

Sincerity in our actions, in our deeds, in our behavior has an enormous impact on our success and on the  quality of life we experience.  Every day of our lives, at any given moment in our lives, we make choices.  Some good, some bad.  We live with the consequences of both.  So do others in our circle of influence.

Let’s look at a few simple facts:

Someone lies to you.  Do you ever again believe them without wondering if they’re being truthful this time or lying again?

Someone violates your trust.  Even with the effort and time required to rebuild it, when an issue arises that requires trust, do you give it–without remembering the violation?

Someone manipulates you.  Or tries to manipulate you.  Are you eager to embrace that person?  You might forgive them on moral grounds–because it is the right thing for you to do–but does that require you to put yourself in the position of being manipulated again?  It doesn’t.  Common sense and logic warns against it.  Forgive them, yes.  But don’t ignore the insights you’ve gained into their character.

When someone is genuine, sincere in their assertions and actions, and in the manner in which they conduct themselves and their lives, they avoid violations of this type which raise questions in others’ minds.  General doubts and concerns due to culture occur, but specific offenses and abuses aren’t in play.

Now you can’t control what others think and do or how they behave.  Some will look at you and attribute their own motives, acts, and behavior to you, expecting you to be and react as they would.  That’s human, but it also leads to a lot of false conclusions.  You can’t control that.  Only they can.

What you can control is you:  your thought life, your physical life, your spiritual life, your conduct, and your behavior.  You know your motives, your reasons for doing what you do, when you do it, the way you do it.

If you act with sincerity, you’ve spared yourself  the hardships and results of violating others.  You’ve also spared yourself self-inflicted violations.

Again, note the interaction in the virtues and how one leg of our bench is interdependent on all the others.

Sincerity isn’t a facade.  It isn’t a face we put on to greet the public.  It’s a mindset seated in principle and ethics, in morals and in faith.

It’s a belief that seeming genuine isn’t our best.  To achieve our greatest success, we must be genuine.

That’s sincere.

Justice. Inside us beats a heart that cries for justice.  We want wrongs made right.  The unfair made fair.  We want the guilty to pay, the innocent spared, the liar exposed, the thief caught, the criminal punished.

We don’t just want justice, we crave it.  We rely on it to keep our streets and homes safe, our society one in which we feel secure and in which we aren’t ashamed.  We want the bad guys to lose, the good guys to win, and for all things to work out right in the end–however we define right.

And sometimes they do.

But sometimes they don’t.

A hard lesson for me to learn to the point of acceptance was that people aren’t all basically good.  They aren’t all ethical, they aren’t all moral, and they don’t always wish, hope and pray for the greater good.  They could be all those things and more, but some choose not to be for a myriad of reasons.

We’ve heard justice prevails, it all comes out in the wash, what goes around comes around.  All those sayings and many more.  But we look around and we see horrible deeds go unpunished, wicked behavior by the lowest of standards reap rewards.  We see injustice and at times we begin to doubt justice exists.

Let’s dispel the rumors.

Justice exists.  The perimeters were set forth thousands of years ago in the form of basic truths and they haven’t changed.  Truths are like that.  They’re universal and they’re enduring.

What might or might not be enduring is the legs on justice’s bench.  We let this or that slide, let someone fudge a little, fail to hold lawbreakers accountable, and we make the legs of justice wobbly.

You see, the law isn’t what’s defined justice all these years.  People have defined justice. Justice is.  But the choices made either support or diminish it.  And each time justice is circumvented, it becomes a little harder to sustain.  The bench legs grow a little more wobbly.  It isn’t that the truth has changed.  That justice has changed.  The support for it is what changes.

Realizing that the truth remains and justice is justice regardless of whether or not it’s supported or enforced or deliberately manipulated or circumvented doesn’t alter justice.  It does alter the application of justice.

So we choose.  We live in a country where justice is to be applied equally.  If it is, great.  We’ve fulfilled our personal obligation in fostering it.  If it isn’t, then we haven’t.  That’s the long and short of it.  The rest is just clutter.

Justice isn’t just about what a court or government decides is just and then renders.  It’s what people demand from its courts and government.  Justice isn’t just about what’s outside of us, either.  It’s within.  Our craving for justice requires we be just.  In our opinions, in our attitudes, in our acts.

An example.  You go in to negotiations.  Your objective is to make the best deal you can.  On the other side of the table sits one whose objective is to make the best deal s/he can make.  If you both negotiate in good faith, then eventually you end up somewhere in the middle.  If both leave that table feeling good about the deal, you’ve achieved a fair deal.  A win/win situation.

But when those negotiations are not held in good faith, and a win/win situation isn’t sought, someone loses.  Too many feel good about winning in a situation where someone loses.

I’m not talking about a competition, or a foot race here.  There are times and situations were there are winners and losers and that’s that.  We enjoy our wins, mourn our losses, being philosophical and sincere in recognizing that no one wins all the time, and then we press on.  I’m talking about the situations where one person deliberately sets out to take advantage of another.  Who permits or allows someone to make a bad deal because they can.  Is that just?

Some would say if s/he’s dumb enough to do it, yes.  But one who loves justice will not.  One who loves justice realizes that if you make a killing at the negotiating table the first time, there won’t be a second trip to the table because the other party will be dead.

The death of your opponent isn’t success.  It’s suicide.  Because there are only so many people who can and will sit on the opposite side of that negotiating table.  In short, you run out of victims or potential partners.

Implementing justice is spiritually mature.  It’s seeing the wisdom and benefits of having both parties walk away feeling that they’ve made a fair deal.  In a fair deal, both parties feel invested, enthused, excited.  Both parties see merit in the project or product or service, and both look forward to the process of fruition.

Some will disagree.  Some will say that you must go for the jugular, get all you can, take all at any cost.  And some do function that way.  Some even appear to prosper . . . for a time.  But is that prosperity truly success?

When justice isn’t applied within or without, what’s left is spiritually bankrupt.  How many people do you know who are spiritually bankrupt and content?  Fulfilled?  Sleep well at night?  Meet their eyes in the morning mirror and like what they see?

It is the unseen in us that craves justice.  And it is the unseen in us that blesses or curses, praises or condemns us for our part in embracing or shunning it.

Justice isn’t for the fainthearted.  It isn’t for the weak.  It is for those strong enough to be vulnerable and strong enough to do the right thing even though the tangible, physical and immediate rewards for such are invisible to the naked eye, intangible, or inconvenient.

The bottom line is that if we want justice we must be just.  We must object to injustice in all its forms.  Even when it’s not politically correct, or when we’ll take heat for doing so.  Even when it’s out of vogue, or it would be oh-so-much easier on us to ignore, to pretend ignorance of it, to walk away.

Justice is blind to many things, but not to the truths within us.  If we want it, we have to insist on it.  Because injustice is often presented because it ruffles fewer feathers and causes fewer challenges.

Yet the consequences of going along with it is you only gain greater challenges, more complex challenges, and the absence of justice.

And then we crave it all the more.

Moderation. The wisdom of the ages is to be moderate in all things.  We see what happens if we get too far to either side–we have no balance.  Hard to function with no balance.

If we eat too much, we gain weight.  If we eat too little, we lose weight.  In all we do, we see the benefit of balance, or moderation.

From bodily intake to taking time off from work, we see the challenges that arise when the balance is broken.  We’re right back to our bench.  Moderation means all the legs on the bench are the same length.  Overindulgence in any area, and those legs are too long.  Under-indulge, and they’re too short.  Either way, the bench isn’t useable for normal function because it’s not stable.  It rocks and wobbles.  It tilts and jerks.  The bench can’t be a successful bench because it lacks moderation–or legs that are all the same length, which then spread the weight placed on the bench.

At times, we all indulge in excess.  We all reap the rewards or challenges from doing so, too.  The problem is that we tend to not consider those consequences until after we indulge.  We know we should.  We know it’s best.  We know, and yet we indulge anyway.

Human beings are basically self-indulgent.  We want what we want and we want it when we want it, which more often than not is right now.  We rationalize, deceive ourselves and others, talk around, avoid, deny, refuse to accept–all to foster our desire to do what we want to do.  And the more certain we are that we shouldn’t indulge, the harder we try to all those things we know we shouldn’t, or some combination of them, to justify our actions.

We talk ourselves into this extreme action, do it, and then live to regret it.

The wise part of us says we knew what we were doing, and we asked for it.  The wise part of us accepts personal responsibility for the action.  But those among us who have yet to reach that emotional and spiritual maturity look for someone else to blame–anyone else to blame.

The consequences of the indulgence are suffered either way–in accepting responsibility for your actions and being personal accountable, or in blaming someone else, denying your responsibility and shunning your accountability.

But the truth is this:  You suffer the consequences.

If you accept responsibility and are accountable, you can atone by taking constructive action to correct the challenge and by choosing not to engage again.

If you deny responsibility and are not accountable, you’ve got bigger problems that will keep coming at you until you get the message that if you indulge, you are indulging.

If you blame others, you’ve added an entire new level to the consequences challenge.  Why?

Because you’ve attributed blame to someone blameless.  That’s unjust.  (There’s that interaction between the virtues again!)  Then you suffer the consequences of that infraction, too!

Moderation isn’t intended to restrict us from anything.  It’s purpose is to keep us healthy, our personal scales balanced.  But to implement moderation in our lives requires restraint.  Self-control.  Discipline.  It requires us to examine the value of moderation–and that includes our mouths.

Moderating speech–what we say, how we say it, to whom we say it–is a huge key to success.

If we indulge in gossip, we should expect at some point to be the topic of it.  If we lose our tempers and speak harshly, we’re likely saying things for which we must later apologize.  At best, we’re generating a lot of bad will.  If we’re harsh and vindictive, we’ll have earned our reputations for being so.

Are any of those things healthy environments for success?  Our greatest success?

Be moderate in all things.  I’m far from the first to say it, and far from the first to know a great piece of advice when I see or hear one.  This is great advice.

Physical, emotional, or spiritual moderation isn’t being lukewarm on anything.  One can be passionate and moderate.  Determined and moderate.  Bursting

with joy and be moderate.  One can enjoy a fabulous meal, lap swimming, and still be moderate.

Moderation helps us build balance, avoid injury, preventing us from going over or under on nearly everything on every front.  It is a process.  Moderation also helps us maintain balance.  Achieving is but a part of success.  Maintaining what we achieve is essential to achieving our greatest success, and that requires moderation.

Cleanliness. We think of cleanliness in terms of our body, work area, home.  In terms of keeping things neat and tidy.  And those things are very important.  We know the disease and challenges that can come from germs and bacteria, from the lack of cleanliness.  But how often do we consider the cleanliness of our emotions?  Of our minds?

Remember, we’re three-dimensional human beings:  physical, emotional and spiritual or mind, body and spirit.

We know from virtues already covered the challenges that occur with imbalance.  Without moderation.  When we lack temperance, silence, order and justice.  We know that the virtues are interdependent and one enhances and strengthens the others.  So why then knowing these things do we not consider the cleanliness of our emotions and our minds and spirits equally important to that of our physical being and world?

When emotions are unclean, they’re warped.  They skew our sense of well being, twist our mindset, our perspective.  They too often turn dark and menacing, destructive.  Our relationships with others suffer, our sense of worth and value suffers.  We suffer.

When our minds are unclean, our thoughts take us down wrong roads, polluted roads, roads that make problems bigger, harder to tackle, fearful roads.  We start to compromise on ethics, our sense of right and wrong gets muddy.  We say and do things that we believed we’d never do–that we know are self-destructive to do.

Unclean attracts unclean.  What we tolerate or attract we claim.  What we claim either is or becomes us.

This makes the purity of thoughts extremely important.  Where the mind goes, the body follows.  Not sure who said it, but I’ve lived enough to know it’s true.  Let me share a specific.

When you’re around positive, upbeat people, you’re more apt to be positive and upbeat.  When you’re surrounded by negativity, it is really hard not to be negative.  It permeates your defenses against it.  It massages and manipulates what is into its darkest forms.  We all know that our mood or attitude impacts our perception.  So if our thoughts are dark, we’re going to become dark.  It’s the logical, morbid path.

We all go through dark times.  Losing someone we love–grief is truly merciless–being falsely accused of infractions we did not commit, being lied to or about, not getting a promotion we deserve, doing the work and someone else getting the credit, being used, abused, asked questions that let us know someone is indifferent as to whether we live or die, only interested in how they’ll be impacted and if they will get their rightful share of what we leave behind.  The list is endless.

Our thoughts in these situations are naturally dark, and we have to exercise discipline and control to overcome them and not let them taint our entire lives, because unchecked, they will.  They’ll color everything, spreading and seeping into every crevice and cranny until our total being is tainted.

That requires us making a conscious choice to not allow it.  When our minds turn dark, we have to force ourselves to turn back to light.  When someone hurts us or wrongs us, we have to forgive them and then turn to those who love us and treat us well.

We control ourselves in these situations.  No pill, no wallowing in self-pity, no casting heaps of blame elsewhere will fix anything or do anything to get our minds clean and our thoughts positive.  We must choose to be positive, to think positive, to act on positive thoughts.  If we do, then the rest of us will catch up.  Where the mind goes, the body follows.

Just as unclean bodies are home to bacteria and disease, unclean thoughts are home to mental dis-ease.  Mental dis-ease fosters physical disease.

When gloom and doom occupy all your thoughts, there’s no room for success.  There is room for physical illness.  Then you’re focused on fighting the illness and there’s still no room for success.

Cleanliness isn’t just about the physical.  It’s about the physical and the emotional and the spiritual.  The spiritual realm is home to virtues, to ethics and standards and morals.  Like the virtues themselves, the balance between our three-dimensions requires balance to create conditions that are conducive to success.  To create the balance  required to nurture the path of success.

Cleanliness works in tandem with order and the other virtues to provide the forum, and working in tandem with the other virtues provides the means for the vehicle–that would be you–to achieve and maintain your best success.

Tranquility. We think of tranquility and imagine a place or sense of calm and peace and serenity.  Then we look at life and see challenges and obstacles and problems, and we shout our frustration, “Hey, wait a minute.  Knock it off, will  you?  I’m trying to be tranquil here!”

How in the world are we supposed to be tranquil in a world full of upset?  People are tense, frustrated, grouchy, annoyed, irritated and impatient.  They’re about as tranquil as a keg of TNT with a lit fuse.

All of that and more is true, but tranquility isn’t finding peace and calm away from storms.  That doesn’t exist in life.  Tranquility is finding and keeping your peace during storms.

Do that, and you’re halfway to success.

Let me share a quick example.  Yesterday, I got a phone call from a solicitor wanting money.  I explained that I had recently donated to such a cause.  The man’s voice elevated and he snapped at me, saying he knew that, which was why he was calling.  He wanted more.  They’d just had an incident and needed a good deal of money fast.  I have an aversion to be yelled at, especially by someone wanting something from me.  Yet this was a good cause.  I paused a second then decided the cause shouldn’t suffer because this guy wanted someone to yell at.  He was obviously having a bad day, so I cut him some slack.  I suggested he mail me the information and said I would look at it.  He got belligerent, pushed, and made a smart remark that crossed the line, then ended his tantrum with a “Are you going to do this or not?”  That was the one.  The proverbial straw.  I said I wasn’t and to remove me from their list.  I hung up with him screaming at me.

Now we can make allowances for people.  We can be compassionate and understanding and accommodating.  Often that exercise of self-control is mistaken for weakness and others attempt to bully us into doing their will.  As you can see from the above example that was a mistake.  This group lost a supporter.  The man lost his dignity–and I dare-say that if he spoke to others as he did to me, he’ll soon find himself reported and lose his job.

I hung up and forgot the incident, when on about my day, did my work and lived my life.  I expect he screamed until he felt less stressed, griped to someone else, muttered and muffled and maybe even went home complaining about that mean woman who wouldn’t do as she was told.  For him, you see, it was about control.

The point is I was surprised by his behavior but I didn’t lose my peace over it.  Tranquil in the storm.

I’ve had to really work at this one, I confess.  And at times, I fail.  But in this incident, I saw the value of holding my tongue, keeping my peace, and staying calm.  One temper is bad.  Two is much worse.  I wanted to blister the man’s ears and give him a lecture his mother should have given him long ago.  But I didn’t.  Hard?  Yes.  Worthy?  Yes.

It was a choice.  And I made the one I felt was right and best.  That’s all we can do.  Our best, and that’s why I chose that story to share.

We aren’t going to live in a tranquil world.  People are messy.  Life is messy.  A lot of lives are a lot of messes.  Most are out of our control.  But not all.  Our reactions, however, are within our domain.  We choose whether to fire off that hot retort or to stay silent until reason reigns and we settle back into our peace.

I’d be remiss if I claimed to be able to do this alone.  I’m not that strong.  I rely heavily on faith for

calm during storms.  It gives me all I lack on my own to allow me to struggle through the urge to blast or blister.  I’m grateful for it.

When we’re tranquil and not anxious, we’re mentally, physically and emotional positioned to be open to thoughts and ideas, to new potential, possibilities.  We make better decisions, analyze more clearly.  We’re sharper, quicker, wiser, stronger.  Our imaginations have room to play, to project, to expect.  We can focus on those dreams and wishes.  We have room in our lives to foster success.  We have room for the vision we need to achieve our best success.

Chastity. Most today see the word chastity and think of refraining from intercourse, but that barely scratches the surface of chastity.  A better, more comprehensive understanding would be in considering chastity morally pure.  That we can wrap our minds and hearts around and know that we’re getting a fuller intent.

Moral purity isn’t just having pure morals.  It’s pure motives and pure intentions, too.  It’s the absence of manipulation, of dirty-dealing, of using underhanded methods or means.  Moral purity is respect.  Respect for self, for others, for property, for everything.

A person who embraces moral purity tries hard to treat others well, to respect their boundaries, their hopes and desires and to encourage them in the pursuit of their dreams.  It means to doubt or err on the side of morals or ethics.

For example, we’ve all heard the slogan, “Do it anyway.”  Well, if “it” is to face your fears, speak out against something wrong, embrace courage, then it’s a positive thing.  Constructive.  Morally pure or chaste.  But if that “do it anyway” is used as encouragement or enticement to do something you know is wrong, illegal, harmful or destructive to yourself or to another, then it is not morally pure or chaste.  It’s corrupt and used as a license to do what you want to do that you know you shouldn’t.

Moral purity isn’t placing yourself in a position of superiority or above it all.  It’s trying to do the right thing for the right reason at the right time in the right way.  A way that respects you and everyone and everything else impacted.

If we check the dictionary, being chaste means being restrained and simple, free from unnecessary ornamentation.  If we apply this to the physical, we easily grasp the intent.  In applying it to the emotional and spiritual, we see the merit and grasp a fuller, deeper value.

Often we make things complex because we take what is and attempt to weave it until it becomes what we want it to be so that we can feel comfortable and justified in doing what we want to do.  Doesn’t make it right.  Doesn’t make it best.  Just makes it palatable because in our minds we can rationalize our wants and reconcile the differences.

Unfortunately the very thing that became our “valid excuse” often comes back and bites us on the backside.  Then, we typically ask ourselves, “Why me?” or some other like question that removes responsibility for the action or deed from us.  It doesn’t work.  It’s a facade, an illusion, a delusion.  And eventually we realize it, accept it, and then we go on, wiser for the experience.  But until we reach that point of accepting responsibility and changing our mindset, we are pummeled with the consequences of our actions.

In short, successful people are ones who are not continuously and repeatedly being pummeled.  They’re accepting responsibility for their actions and deeds, restructuring themselves to avoid those same challenges again, and moving on.  They’re embracing the full intent of chastity.

Humility. When you mention humility to someone often the reaction you get is that they confuse humility with humiliation.  The two are poles apart.

Humility is realizing you don’t know it all, you don’t have all the answers, you don’t even know all the questions.  It is not being so full of yourself that you place yourself on some kind of pedestal from which you are destined to fall.  Being humble in spirit, or demeanor, is a mark of true success.  It is respecting yourself and others, understanding your

value and worth and the value and worth of all others.

I remember once as a small child, a visitor came to our home.  He spent hours and hours telling my father and I how smart he was and how stupid another man was.  This was an uncommon dialogue in our house, and after the man left, I asked my dad why the man did that.  He explained that when people feel unqualified or inferior or uneasy with themselves, they make those kinds of assertions to justify themselves (assert their worth) to others.   They try to build themselves up by tearing others down.

It doesn’t work.  I was maybe ten or twelve at this time, and my reaction was surprise and dislike.  I disliked what this man was doing, talking hatefully about the third man who wasn’t there to defend himself.

My dad went on to say two things I’ve never forgotten:

1.      If you’re smart, you don’t have to tell anyone.  They’ll know it.  And no matter how smart you are, someone else is smarter.  Listen and learn.

2.       You never build yourself up by tearing someone down.  Instead, you tear down two people.  The person you’re talking ugly about and yourself.

Those were valuable lessons that speak to the virtue of humility.  Something else my dad said that I’ve clung to like a lifeline over the years is that if you’re on a ladder and want to step up to the next rung, extend a hand and ask for help.  Someone of character will reach back down and help pull you up.  And while you’re on that ladder, look down.  If someone is extending an outstretched hand, reach back down and help pull them up.

That visual image is to me the epitome of humility in action.  It embraces compassion, respect, honor, dignity.  It speaks to elevating all.  And isn’t that the ultimate exercise of humility?

In The Art of Virtues, Franklin says to imitate Jesus and Socrates.  Can you imagine a world like that?

Jesus was an upstart, but amazingly perfect.  He was betrayed, abused, sold, falsely accused, denied, lied to, lied about, run out of town and murdered for doing absolutely nothing wrong.  He had every right to be bitter and all the power in the world at His command.  He could have cleaned house in the blink of an eye.  Instead, He interceded on the behalf of those who had done all these horrible things to Him and asked that they be forgiven.  That’s humility.

That’s the ultimate self-control.

He got ticked off, too.  And experienced every other human emotion a mortal can experience.  Yet He held to virtue, to His beliefs, to what He believed was good and true and right.  Humble and magnificent.

Socrates, the enigmatic and wise mentor and philosopher, condemned for teachings considered heretic but whose ideas on logic influence today.  Ideas seated in humility and logic and wisdom passed on to his students.

Both Jesus and Socrates had ample opportunities to inflict humiliation.  Socrates is a bit of a mystery, but Jesus elected not to humiliate but to heal.  Again expressing amazing and admirable self-control.  Embodying humility.

And so there you have it.  My personal take on each of Ben Franklin’s success-gaining virtues.

Digesting as I’m writing this, I think about all the research I’ve been doing lately on potential villains.  Since they are villains, the subject matter has been dark.  I’ve seen corrupt people use and abuse for the purpose of personal gain and greed.  Seen people willing to destroy millions of others to achieve their personal goals or inflict on others their personal ideology.  Others who destroy lives of those who “get in their way” or even those who dare to disagree with them.

I’ve seen things that even a writer who has written many, many books on terrorism and who has studied terrorists for years wishes she could erase from her memory.  Things that curdle blood and encase your heart in ice so you freeze out the pain of man’s inhumanity to man.

Some of these people have risen to high positions in their companies, organizations and governments.  By the standards of many, they’re successful, their acumen admired.

Me, I wouldn’t consider standing in the same room with them without my back being against the wall and direct, unobstructed access to the door.  I don’t think Ben Franklin would, either.

People who arouse those types of feelings in us, we don’t trust.  We see no signs in them of any of the virtues Ben Franklin considered keys to success  or I explored.  Which leads me to conclude that people define success differently, and that each of us must define it about ourselves and our lives to ourselves.

Others try to define success for us.  They typically relate it to money, position, power or other such things.  But Ben Franklin knew better and so do I.  If you have to sell your soul to gain success, your net worth is a total loss.  You’ve gained nothing and lost everything.

You might live in a fine home, have expensive things and stuff.  But those things are traps that can imprison as well as embrace.

Where there is no peace or contentment, where we feel no sense of value or worth, or that we’re contributing something worth being contributed, we’re not enjoying success.  We’re enjoying the physical facade of success.

But it’s empty.



Yet we can enjoy genuine and real success.  The kind that is home to contentment and feeling fulfilled and valuable and worthy.  Starting today, right now, this very second, we can enjoy true success to its fullest physically, emotionally and spiritually.  Because we know that it takes all three to achieve our best success.  That the keys to doing so are in embracing these virtues.

We know the value and merit and blessings of seeking success Ben Franklin style.❖

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