Thursday, October 18, 2012

An Autobiography Worth Reading: Benjamin Franklin

2016 Edit: This post can now be found on Steemit here.

I was recently intrigued by an interview with Elon Musk, one of the most interesting entrepreneurs of our time (more on that some other day). When asked what books inspired him, he mentioned Ben Franklin's Autobiography.

My ears perked up immediately. I had just been researching Ben's Junto club but never really studied the man himself. Which is strange, considering he founded the very first university in America, one I was privileged to attend.

I loved this book!

I highlighted so many sections, it's kind of funny. I could relate to Mr. Franklin because of the faults he had (he basically ran away from Boston after steam rolling some people), but I was inspired by what he did to change himself. He was a man full of wisdom, inspiration, diligence, and virtue.

I'll add some of my favorite quotes below. Hopefully they will inspire you to give the book a read. If you're an entrepreneur, I highly recommend it.

On Communication and Persuasion

...retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced any thing that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions, and persuade men 
My wife often berates me about communicating my opinion as fact. I really suck at controlling the words I use. I forget how powerful they are. To completely remove words from one's vocabulary is inspiring. I say "good" when I mean "well" at least 10 times a day. Yes, I need to learn the art of thinking before I speak.
When another asserted something that I thought an error, I deny'd myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly, and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appear'd or seem'd to me some difference, etc.
Speaking of those who love to be contrary:
...these disputing, contradicting, and confuting people are generally unfortunate in their affairs. They get victory sometimes, but they never get good will, which would be of more use to them.
The chief ends of conversation are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade.
If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet at the same time express yourself as firmly fix'd in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error.
Men should be taught as if you taught them not, And things unknown propos'd as things forgot;

On Virtues and Self Improvement

This quote actually made me LOL:
It was about this time I conceiv'd the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection.
What blew me away further was the systematic process he went through over a period of decades to achieve this goal. The dude made his own spreadsheets on paper! The virtues he pursued were:

  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 extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
  10. Cleanliness. Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
  11. Tranquility. Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
  12. Chastity. Rarely use venery but for health or offspring, never to dulness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another's peace or reputation.
  13. Humility. Imitate Jesus and Socrates. 

 It's safe to say Ben Franklin helped change the world. Those 13 virtues may explain why.

Throughout the book, he mentions many vices, but I found it interesting he specifically called out debt:
...which exposes a man to confinement, and a species of slavery to his creditors.
Dave Ramsey and Proverbs 22:7 would agree.

On Pride and Humility

In reality, there is, perhaps, no one of our natural passions so hard to subdue as pride. Disguise it, struggle with it, beat it down, stifle it, mortify it as much as one pleases, it is still alive, and will every now and then peep out and show itself; you will see it, perhaps, often in this history; for, even if I could conceive that I had completely overcome it, I should probably be proud of my humility.
Battling my pride (which goes hand-in-hand with my man-pleasing and insecurities) is a constant activity. Glad to know I'm not the only one.

On Reverence to God

And now I speak of thanking God, I desire with all humility to acknowledge that I owe the mentioned happiness of my past life to His kind providence, which lead me to the means I used and gave them success.
"O powerful Goodness! bountiful Father! merciful Guide! increase in me that wisdom which discovers my truest interest. strengthen my resolutions to perform what that wisdom dictates. Accept my kind offices to thy other children as the only return in my power for thy continual favors to me."
That there is one God, who made all things. "That he governs the world by his providence. "That he ought to be worshiped by adoration, prayer, and thanksgiving. "But that the most acceptable service of God is doing good to man. "That the soul is immortal. "And that God will certainly reward virtue and punish vice either here or hereafter."

On Entrepreneurship

I have always thought that one man of tolerable abilities may work great changes, and accomplish great affairs among mankind, if he first forms a good plan, and, cutting off all amusements or other employments that would divert his attention, makes the execution of that same plan his sole study and business.
He'd probably agree with Dave Ramsey who often says the only ship that doesn't sail is a partnership, though Ben does give me hope that it can be done when communicating expectations is made a priority.
Partnerships often finish in quarrels; but I was happy in this, that mine were all carried on and ended amicably, owing, I think, a good deal to the precaution of having very explicitly settled, in our articles, every thing to be done by or expected from each partner, so that there was nothing to dispute, which precaution I would therefore recommend to all who enter into partnerships; for, whatever esteem partners may have for, and confidence in each other at the time of the contract, little jealousies and disgusts may arise, with ideas of inequality in the care and burden of the business, etc., which are attended often with breach of friendship and of the connection, perhaps with lawsuits and other disagreeable consequences.
Oh, and he had an opinion on patents too:
That, as we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.
I could probably go on and on... but you get the idea. It's a good book by an incredible man.

I'm amazed at how many areas of our daily life Ben Franklin influenced. Like him, I also want to make a difference in the world and be significant. Learning what worked for him seems like a good place to start.

What have you read recently that has inspired you?

What other autobiographies would you recommend?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

My Friend, the Politician

If you're like me, you might agree politics is not the answer for much of anything. On any given day, the decisions I make impact myself and my family more than any politician or government program.

In fact, mostly I just want them to stay out of my way and let me run my business.

A few years ago, I got really frustrated with politics in general and urged people to take our country back from the corruption in Washington. I still believe neighbors helping neighbors through churches and non-profits will always be more effective than any bureaucratic government plan.

To be honest, at one point I probably lost hope in the political system as a valid means of bringing about positive change or making an actual difference in people's lives. I have friends that are political, and I've cheered them on at a distance, but, more recently in fact, I've become more aware of just how difficult a job it is to get elected or be a public servant.

My friend Ben Claybaker has helped me realize that. He's running for State Representative for district 53 here in Tennessee. My wife and I have known Ben and his wife Elizabeth for a long time. We actually knew Elizabeth back when we lived in California and she attended UCLA. Ben's the real deal. A small business owner who believes in limited government, cutting taxes, and improving education (which, by the way, makes an area more attractive for business owners, their employees and their families).

Ben won his party's nomination. He and his wife have worked hard. I mean, really hard. I know something about hard work having built my own business over the past 5 years, 4 of which while working a full-time job. He's been working a marathon of making phone calls, attending events, and knocking on doors.

Unlike all of the opponents he's faced in this election, he's lived here for 6 years. I hear the other dude owns a house somewhere else and is renting here just for this election.

Last week I helped knock on doors for Ben and let the swing voters know why I support him. I got to see first hand just how hard he's been working day after day for months. He's doing it because he has a passion to serve his community, and he believes it's part of his calling and responsibility. I'm inspired by my friend who is living his life on purpose.

He's given me hope for politics. He's helped me believe, at least on the local level, that one man with a passion can make a difference.

Today, my family had the privilege of attending one of Ben's events in Lenox Village which is just down the street from our house. The kids had a blast (bounce house, cookies, and gelato), but I also enjoyed meeting Governor Bill Haslam who was there to support Ben (that's him in the picture). Gov. Haslam told some funny stories but also reminded me how close of a race this is. He recommended we each get a list of 10 people in our minds and make sure they vote for Ben this election. I'm hoping this blog post will help us do that.

If you're in district 53, and you want to be proud of your representative, please vote for Ben and ask your friends and neighbors to do the same. Share this post with them or have them contact me if they want someone to vouch for his character.

Not all politicians are evil. I had to see one of my friends first hand working his tail off to realize that. If you're like me, fed up with politicians and politics (especially on the national and presidential levels), try getting to know your local representatives. If you can't find anyone with integrity in your local office, consider running yourself. It's a lot harder to complain about a problem when you're the one willing to fix it.

I hope this post encourages Ben and lets him know how proud his friends are of what he's doing. I hope on November 6th, more people will be introduced to him as our new representative and maybe, just maybe, find hope in the system again.