A wise man once said:
Watch your thoughts, for they become actions
Watch your actions, for they become habits
Watch your habits, for they become your character
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
What thoughts did the terrorists harbour when they bombed Ataturk airport on 28 June, resulting in the death of 42 people, and injuring at least 230? What caused these terrorists to follow the road of destruction that ultimately led to them not dying in peace, but in pieces? Only they know. But what we do know is that how you think and act will ultimately shape you into the kind of person you are, 20 years down the road.
Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of the United States, knew this too. That is why, at the age of 20, he developed a system to develop his character—to break all bad habits, and to make all the good habits stick.
He listed down 13 virtues that he felt were necessary or desirable and began a 13 weeks program to develop these virtues.
Eat not to dullness; drink not to elevation.
Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself; avoid trifling conversation.
Let all your things have their places; let each part of your business have its time.
Resolve to perform what you ought; perform without fail what you resolve.
Make no expense but to do good to others or yourself; waste nothing.
Lose no time; be always employed in something useful; cut off all unnecessary actions.
Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.
Wrong none by doing injuries, or omitting the benefits that are your duty.
Avoid extremes; forbear resenting injuries so much as you think they deserve.
Tolerate no uncleanliness in body, clothes, or habitation.
Be not disturbed at trifles, or at accidents common or unavoidable.
Rarely use venery (note: meaning sexual indulgence) but for health or offspring, never to dullness, weakness, or the injury of your own or another’s peace or reputation.
Imitate Jesus and Socrates.
(If the English seems archaic, that is because we quoted Franklin word for word from his autobiography).
Franklin wanted to become a man who possessed all these virtues, but he also knew that like clearing weed in your school’s garden, you have to focus on one patch at a time. So in the first week, he focused on the first virtue— temperance—which he thought was the easiest. In that week, every time he did something that was detrimental to the development of temperance, he would put a tiny cross in his diary (refer to the diagram below). His aim was to reduce the number of crosses as the week passed. This indicated progress in that area. After one week, he would move on to focus on both the first and the second virtue – temperance and silence. This cycle continued until he was done with all 13 virtues, and then another round would begin. Another rationale for this order of virtues was that by training his self-control in the first and second week, he would be more equipped to hone the remaining virtues that were to come.
If you are going to write Franklin off as one of those goody-two-shoes who are effortlessly good, then let me remind you that the reason why Franklin even started this character training regime was because he was losing friends, even close friends. And he asked himself, “why?” Because of his willingness to reflect, Franklin died as one of the most admired American presidents of all time.
Before his assassination, another great man also gave a list of the 7 social sins that plagued society during his time, to which his grandson added one more (listed number 8). His name is Ghandi.
- Wealth without work
- Pleasure without conscience
- Knowledge without character
- Business without ethics
- Science without humanity
- Religion without sacrifice
- Politics without principle
- Rights without responsibilities
These 8 social sins are not unique to Ghandi’s time, we see them manifesting all the time. When devoid of morality, the world is a cold, dog-eat-dog place where only the fittest is fit to survive. If only businesses not exploit the poor in their pursuit of profit; if only politicians care about the population they serve; if only technology be used to bring life and hope, and not death and despair; if only people think about the effects on others before they act, our world would not be filled with so many abortion clinics, exploitative practices, political scandals, warring nations and terrorist attacks.
Watch your character, for it becomes our destiny.