Wise Words From Ben Franklin

Benjamin Franklin was an amazing achiever on so many levels. If you want to tap into his wisdom and insights read his Autobiography. There are several additions but the one I own is called Benjamin Franklin: The Autobiography and Other writings.

In the first part of the autobiography he talks about how he wanted to improve his language skills which led him to discover the Socratic method that he used very effectively as he honed his skills. He mentioned that he became so good at using it that he would “entangle them [his argumentative opponents]  in difficulties out of which they could not extricate themselves, and so obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause always deserved.”

However, he went on to say that he stopped this practice of simply seeking to win arguments for the sake of it because that did not really serve his main purpose. Here’s how he saw it and I quote:

… as the chief ends of conversation are to inform, or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning and sensible men would not lesson their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of those purposes for which speech was given to us. In fact, if you wish to instruct others, a positive, dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention. If you desire instruction and improvement from the knowledge of others, you should not at the same time express yourself as firmly fixed in your present opinions; modest and sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error. In adopting such a manner you can seldom expect to please your hearers, or to persuade those whose concurrence you desire.

The lessons I take away from this (and anything Franklin says is worth learning from) are:

  • If you seek to lead people you really need to practice your listening skills (which we were never taught to do at school) – seek first to understand before being understood
  • Let go of your “established” beliefs
  • Get off your “high horse” and ask yourself what else might this mean that could be useful to my thought processes
  • If you attempt to drive home your views about a given situation “modest and sensible men” will leave you to wallow in the error of your thinking and you’ll pass up on the opportunity to see an opportunity that is there for the taking.