Benjamin Franklin

What do the light bulb, the post office, the lightning rod, the Constitution, and the modern fire department have in common? They were all invented by Ben Franklin. He was the genius behind most of modern day life and technology. Amazing, isn't it?

LanguageEnglish Language
U.S. HistoryAmerican Revolution: 1754-1789

Transcript

00:27

Self-help books are tomes of infinite wisdom and great perception…

00:31

…containing advice and prescriptions for achieving perfection in certain areas...

00:36

...like how to be a better pope...

00:39

...or how to get rich by printing counterfeit money.

00:40

Of course, for some people, a self-help book dug out of the bargain bin at Walmart won't

00:44

do.

00:44

Benjamin Franklin, for example, was so awesome that he had to write his own self-help book…

00:49

…aptly titled The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin.

00:52

Franklin dabbled in just about everything

00:55

He served as the first American ambassador to France...

01:00

...he suggested that the turkey be the national bird of the United States...

01:08

...he invented bifocals… and fathered an illegitimate son.

01:11

Truly, Franklin was a Renaissance man. Yet even he sometimes thought he could use

01:14

improvement.

01:14

Maybe it was because he wasn't as good at the glass harmonica as George Washington was.

01:18

So, Franklin sought perfection by listing thirteen moral virtues in a small notebook.

01:21

Then he kept track of how often he screwed up.

01:26

Today's self-help books are very different from the scheme Franklin used.

01:31

While Franklin wanted to improve his character – because no one needs two children born

01:36

out of wedlock...

01:36

...the modern self-help industry caters to those who want to correct superficial flaws.

01:42

Also, Franklin understood that there was only one way he was going to become a better person…

01:51

…by working hard and exerting self-control.

01:52

Because so many of the flaws we see in ourselves today are physical…

01:56

…hard work and self-control can't always take us as close to the perfection we desire…

02:01

…as money and a good plastic surgeon. The belief that we can achieve whatever we

02:03

want, that we can be perfect, is as American as the bald eagle...

02:08

...um, turkey.

02:09

Yet our perception of what it means to be a better person has morphed over time.

02:15

Perhaps we should all take a page from Franklin's book...

02:16

...so that, when we seek to improve ourselves, we do so not just for our own benefit, but

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for the benefit of others.

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We thought you might gobble that up.