Can Benjamin Franklin, a Founding Father of America, Help You in 2019?

 

The Founding Fathers are known for many things: giving us our government, primarily being named James or George, and having a pretty excellent wig game, if we do say so ourselves. What they may not be known for is their up-to-date advice when it comes to navigating the world in 2019.

…or so we thought.

We recently got our hands on Ben Franklin’s autobiography which he wrote in 1791, and we took it as a challenge to go through it and see if there’s anything applicable to our modern age. You may be surprised when we share our results. In fact, it may have you all about the Benjamins, and we’re not just talking about a very outdated rap reference at this point.

Don’t believe us? Read on and see for yourself.

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.

First, we’ll be honest; we had to reread that passage because the apostrophe in “fixed” threw us off our game. That said, once we got accustomed to the old-timey way Franklin wrote, the words and his meaning became crystal clear. If you come to someone (like an Advisor) for help, but you already think you know the best path forward, and you let the other person know you know best, the chances of them sharing their wisdom and expertise are slim to none. What Franklin is saying here is, you have to keep an open mind when you’re working with other people—especially if you want something from them, whether it’s time, expertise, or insight. If you don’t do that, people are not going to want to deal with you, and you’ll soon find yourself alone. Pretty solid advice.

The present little sacrifice of your vanity will afterwards be amply repaid.

Oh man, we’ve all been there. Sometimes you have to suck it up, put your feelings aside, and accomplish the task at hand. We agree with Franklin here but want to stress that there is a difference between vanity and respect. Vanity is the feeling you get when you’re being slighted and you feel like the action is beneath you and your reputation. In contrast, respect is the bare minimum requirement for human interactions. So, while we agree that you have to put vanity aside to get the job done, you never have to sacrifice respect to do it. What we mean by that is, if you’re working with someone and maybe you feel like they’re not showing enough deference to your position or expertise, it’s important to know when to put your vanity aside and work together for a common goal. If the person isn’t showing you a baseline of respect, that’s something different—if that’s the case you’re definitely allowed to assess the situation and decide best steps forward for yourself, and that may involve not moving forward with what you’re working on. See the difference?

I grew convinc'd that truth, sincerity and integrity in dealings between man and man were of the utmost importance to the felicity of life; and I form'd written resolutions, which still remain in my journal book, to practice them ever while I lived.

If you’re honest, sincere, and conduct yourself with integrity, the chances of you ever having to manage your reputation, or do damage control for it, are basically nonexistent. We guess some things never go out of style. What we, and Franklin, mean by this is that if you always behave truthfully, you’ll never have to worry about what other people say or think about you.

What we really love about this excerpt is that his aforementioned journal where he wrote out how he wanted to behave was basically his YOU app, only 220 years too early. (We’re not historical experts, but we’re pretty sure apps and smartphones weren’t a thing back then.) He found this notion so important to work at continuously, he wrote it down as a reminder to himself. Does that exercise sound familiar at all?

Look, we’re not going to lie. We had a hard time with this book because the style in which it was written seems a bit alien to us, more than 200 years on. That said, once we were able to adjust to it, a lot of what Benjamin Franklin advocated for seemed extremely current in 2019. It’s almost as if behaving with integrity, focusing on the goal at hand, and being open to new information are timeless, positive qualities. Who would have guessed?

What do you think? Agree with us? Want us to tackle another Founding Father, like Hamilton (the man, not the musical) next? Let us know in the comments!