Franklin on Humility

Benjamin Franklin writes in his autobiography:

I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue [= humility], but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it. I made it a rule to forbear all direct contradiction to the sentiments of others, and all positive assertion of my own. I even forbid myself, agreeably to the old laws of our Junto, the use of every word or expression in the language that imported a fix’d opinion, such as certainly, undoubtedly, etc., and I Benjamin Franklinadopted, instead of them, I conceive, I apprehend, or I imagine a thing to be so or so; or it so appears to me at present. When another asserted something that I thought an error, I deny’d myself the pleasure of contradicting him abruptly, and of showing immediately some absurdity in his proposition; and in answering I began by observing that in certain cases or circumstances his opinion would be right, but in the present case there appeared or seem’d to me some difference, etc. I soon found the advantage of this change in my manner; the conversations I engage’d in went on more pleasantly. The modest way in which I propos’d my opinions procure’d them a readier reception and less contradiction; I had less mortification when I was found to be in the wrong, and I more easily prevail’d with others to give up their mistakes and join with me when I happened to be in the right.

And this mode, which I at first put on with some violence to natural inclination, became at length so easy, and so habitual to me, that perhaps for these fifty years past no one has ever heard a dogmatical expression escape me. And to this habit (after my character of integrity) I think it principally owing that I had early so much weight with my fellow-citizens when I proposed new institutions, or alterations in the old, and so much influence in public councils when I became a member; for I was but a bad speaker, never eloquent, subject to much hesitation in my choice of words, hardly correct in language, and yet I generally carried my points.

I’m neither endorsing nor rejecting this quote. I find that sometimes I follow Franklin’s advice and sometimes I don’t; my inner eirenist and my inner Randian are clearly somewhat divided over the policy. But I do find myself less annoyed with opponents when they follow the policy; so it’s worth thinking about.

IMHO, of course.


10 Responses to Franklin on Humility

  1. Louis B. December 31, 2009 at 10:38 pm #

    What’s an eirenist?

    • Roderick December 31, 2009 at 10:40 pm #

      One who seeks to allay hostilities and make peace.

      • aniceberg December 31, 2009 at 11:35 pm #

        Pray tell what you know etymology-wise about the word “eirenist”.

        I’m curious to learn if it stems from name “Aaron”, the Kohen Gadol, the Jewish high priest, who was said to be a Rodef Shalom, literally a person who chases after others to make peace between them.

        Judaism even learns from him that it’s permissible to tell a white lie in order to bring about peace; for example, one may speak separately to each member of a squabbling couple, and tell them that the other spouse confided to him that they were remorseful and wanted to make peace but were too ashamed to do so.

      • Louis B. December 31, 2009 at 11:50 pm #

        I may use this to describe my political philosophy from now on…

        Happy 2010.

  2. WorBlux January 1, 2010 at 1:18 am #

    Well Franklin wasn’t much of a libertarian, but he was certainly a master diplomat.

  3. Neil January 1, 2010 at 8:23 am #

    Eirenism and Randianism Reconciled: Modesty without Subjection

  4. Sheldon Richman January 1, 2010 at 11:33 am #

    I’ve never seen the quote, but I can identify with it. I believe I largely adhere to what he says. On the occasions that I don’t, I feel lousy. Thanks!

  5. Neil January 1, 2010 at 12:01 pm #

    Eirenism and Randianism Reconciled: Modesty without Subjection[?]

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