Total Pageviews

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Speckled Ax Was Best

The analysis of our imperfect human behavior tends to be perplexing and sobering, yet predictable nonetheless.  Are there other recurring patterns, both good and bad, which can be readily identified and typed?

Among Ben Franklin’s many varied endeavors included a fascinating attempt to arrive at moral perfection.  In his reading, he had enumerated and catalogued 13 moral virtues.  Arranged in order of importance, the previous acquisition of some perhaps facilitating the acquisition of others, they were as follows:

1.       TEMPERANCE.
Eat not to Dullness.
Drink not to Elevation.

2.       SILENCE.
Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself.

3.       ORDER.
Let all 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 not time.  --  Be always employ’d in something useful.  --  Cut off all unnecessary actions.

7.       SINCERITY.
Use no hurtful deceit.

8.       JUSTICE.
Wrong none, by doing Injuries or omitting the Benefits that are your Duty.

9.       MODERATION.
Avoid Extreams.  Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.

Tolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Cloaths or Habitation.

Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents common or unavoidable.

12.    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.    HUMILITY.
Imitate Jesus and Socrates.

Franklin’s intention was to attempt, systematically, a plan for self-examination, seeking somewhat ambitiously to acquire all the virtues at once.  But he quickly judged that this would be an impractical distraction.  So, he lowered the bar, beginning to focus his attention on just one virtue at a time, in the arranged order.  When the first had been mastered, he would proceed to another, until he had successfully gone through all 13.  He allotted 1 week to each venture, and consequently he could complete a full course in 13 weeks, and 4 courses in a year.

He continued the plan for some time, with occasional intermissions, achieving satisfaction in seeing his faults diminish.  But, he was also alarmed to some degree in learning that he found himself so much fuller of faults than he had imagined.  Business, travel and a multiplicity of affairs also interfered, however, stretching a single 13 week course to a full year, or longer.  Strength and progress in one virtue would cause a relapse in another, vexing him to consider giving up the attempt altogether.

In the end, he found that his undertaking was akin to a likeness of a man, who brings his ax to the grind stone to be sharpened.  As the wheel ground on, the ax had become speckled, that is, very sharp and shiny at one turn, yet a bit duller nor as bright at another.  No matter how much the wheel ground on, and the ax turned to a point of physical fatigue, the speckled ax still looked the same.  He concluded that although he had fallen short, he was better and happier than had he not attempted it, and contented that perhaps a speckled ax was best.

-Michael D’Angelo

No comments:

Post a Comment