Franklins Road To Humility




Ben’s Autobiography begins in humility and ends in humility. He is born into a modest family being the youngest son of the youngest son for five generations back. He finishes part two with the modesty of an accomplished elder. However, in between it is full of arrogance and pride. During his early years (part 1 of The Autobiography), Ben’s diligence and thirst for knowledge continuously put him in comforting situations. Unfortunately he repeatedly allows his good fortunes to bring about his youthful pride and arrogance, sometimes to a point where they compromise his decision making. This in turn causes some sort of misfortune or mishap to occur, which humbles him. Ben Franklin shows us that humility is a continuing process that one learns overtime and through his own experiences. A person who has acquired the reality of the virtue never admits it because he doesn’t know it. A person with the reality of the virtue will in fact deny it, because of the nature of humility. Upon reading the Autobiography I came to the notion that during his youth and onto early adulthood, Ben was acquiring the appearance of the virtue of humility. However; in his elder years, the reality of the virtue is indisputable.
The first instance in which the appearance of humility is evident is when Ben decides to get into the habit of expressing himself in Terms of Diffidence (page 333). When saying anything that could be disputed, Ben didn’t use words that gave the “air of positiveness to an opinion,” he instead said things like, I conceive, it appears to me, and it is so if I am not mistaken. Ben’s manner of speaking showed the appearance of humility but lacked the reality of it. The reason he spoke like that was because, “it procur’d them a readier reception and less contradiction.” Made it easier for Ben to argue and get his point across, no humility in the heart.
In one instance Ben’s youthful self-regard and dignity forced humility upon him. When Sir William Keith proposed a business deal with Ben, he jumped at the opportunity, the opportunity to show his brother up. Ben returned home dressed in a “genteel new suit” (page 342) and wearing a watch. He proceeds to his brothers place of business to show off all these things and before he leaves he buys the journey-men a round of drinks. Where


is the humility in that? His brother later said he was insulted so much in front of his workers that he could never forgive or forget. Ben thought he was on top of the world when he came back to visit his family. But before he knew it, his father declined to assist him and he was stuck in England with no money and no job. That was one of the lessons he needed to learn in order to reach real humility in his later years. One day you are dining with royalty and have everything you need, the next day you are looking for a place to day, lonely, and living on bread and water.
Ben uses the words “reality” and “appearance” twice in the autobiography. The first time it is in regards to him being efficient and hardworking. But he goes on to show how he is hardworking in the eyes of the citizens. He says that, “in order to secure my credit and character as a tradesman... I would dress plainly and was never seen in places of idle Diversion, and I would never go out fishing or shooting” (page 367). This proves the appearance of his hardworking efficiency. He doesn’t say anything about what he really wanted to do in regards to fishing and shooting etc. On page 384 we see the second mention of “reality” and “appearance.” It was these few paragraphs that convinced me Benjamin Franklin grew into humble old man. The first thing that shows the reality of his humility is when his friend approached him about omitting humility from his list of virtues for human perfectibility. A Quaker friend of his kindly informed him that Ben was generally proud and that it showed itself frequently in conversation. By mentioning a few instances Ben was convinced. The young Ben