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Improve Yourself, Improve The World

Here it is again. A fresh start. New resolutions, or last January’s retreads. A year-long resolution can seem like an unwelcome debt–like a car payment or a mortgage.

About 4,000 years ago the ancient Babylonians made New Year’s promises to their gods to pay debts and return borrowed objects. If they kept their promises, they received godly favor in the coming year. If not, well, one can only imagine. Displeasing the gods probably carries stiffer penalties than displeasing oneself.

In a more recent era, Benjamin Franklin created a list of 13 virtues which he strove to incorporate into his daily life, and though he admitted to never achieving full mastery, he credited the simple pursuit of them with his happiness and successes.

Franklin posted these virtues on a chart against which he measured his success for each day. Thus, it became his life journey rather than a few short-lived resolutions he might discard within the next weeks.

He found that such moral goals achieve success in the striving for them, even when not fully actualized. Through their practice, one becomes more conscious of his/her behavior and thought tendencies each day and can make corrections accordingly. A person becomes what he/she wishes to see manifested in their own experience—if you would have more kindness, be kind.

Franklin sought to embody temperance (in food and drink), silence (speak only to benefit), order, resolution (perform what you ought), frugality, industry (be productive), sincerity, justice (wrong no one), moderation, cleanliness, tranquility (don’t sweat the small stuff),

chastity, and humility. One could also add to this list qualities like patience, charity, honesty, gratitude.

No one would deny that following Franklin’s course is a tall order. How does anyone remember to abide by all these virtues at any given time every day? Franklin would focus on one virtue until, over time, he felt he had a handle on it. Then he would move on to the next.

Another way might begin with focusing on a different virtue each day:

Just for today I will find something I can admire about my boss/spouse/that nasty clerk. Just for today I will curb my tongue. On this day I will not be selfish. Today I will fulfill my promises. Today I will not roll my eyes. Just for today I will forgive idiot drivers. Today I will hold the door for someone, let another driver in ahead of me, thank those who also do the same for me.

It also helps to remember that others are fighting their own demons.

As Franklin discovered, eventually these traits begin to take over how one lives and thinks. Just one virtue a day practiced can make the world kinder by that much.

Wishing you a New Year of joy and peace, and at least 13 virtues circling back on you every day to enrich your life.

Constance Watkins