Benjamin Franklin, Business Ethics And How To Approach An Opponent!

An excerpt from The True Benjamin Franklin

Author: Sydney George Fisher

Franklin was by nature a public man; but the beginning of his life as an office-holder may be said to have dated from his appointment as clerk of the Assembly. This took place in 1736, when he had been in business for himself for some years, and his newspaper and “Poor Richard” were well under way. It was a tiresome task to sit for hours listening to buncombe speeches, and drawing magic squares and circles to while away the time. But he valued the appointment because it gave him influence with the members and a hold on the public printing.

The second year his election to the office was opposed; an influential member wanted the place for a friend, and Franklin had a chance to show a philosopher’s skill in practical politics.

“Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I return’d it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met, in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends and our friendship continued to his death. This is another instance of the truth of an old maxim I had learned, which says ‘He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.’” (Bigelow’s Franklin from his own Writings, vol. i. p. 260.)

Some people have professed to be very much shocked at this disingenuous trick, as they call it, although perhaps capable of far more discreditable ones themselves. It would be well if no worse could be said of modern practical politics.

I confess to have done similar things myself having been a student of Franklin since I was in high school. (It took me an age to figure out what venery was!) 

There was a mail service in the building where I worked. The mail often contained items of some confidentiality so I asked the our version of a postman to give the letters only to me. Well, a few days passed and the office gossip brought in the letters after having gone through them. I was enraged and decided to go out and tell off the guy. Fortunately this thought passed away instantly as I realized that the busybody would have the letters from then on.

So, the next day I went over and told him how much I appreciated his giving the mail to me only, how it helped me with my work and how few people who did his work would have realized its importance and helped me in the matter. The office busybody never got the mail again. (And the postman and I were buddies from then on.)

Needless to say, I don’t consider Franklin’s action a mean trick. I think it is just a good way to get to know someone.

James Pilant

Enhanced by Zemanta

Benjamin Franklin, Business Ethics and Bearing Grudges

An excerpt from Benjamin Franklin by John Torrey Morse, Jr.

In Philadelphia Franklin soon found opportunity to earn a living at his trade. There were then only two printers in that town, ignorant men both, with scant capacity in the technique of their calling. His greater acquirements and ability, and superior knowledge of the craft, soon attracted attention. One day Sir William Keith, governor of the province, appeared at the printing-office, inquired for Franklin, and carried him off “to taste some excellent Madeira” with himself and Colonel French, while employer Keimer, bewildered at the compliment to his journeyman, “star’d like a pig poison’d.” Over the genial glasses the governor proposed that Franklin should set up for himself, and promised his own influence to secure for him the public printing. Later he=7= wrote a letter, intended to induce Franklin’s father to advance the necessary funds. Equipped with this document, Franklin set out, in April, 1724, to seek his father’s coöperation, and surprised his family by appearing unannounced among them, not at all in the classic garb of the prodigal son, but “having a genteel new suit from head to foot, a watch, and my pockets lin’d with near five pounds sterling in silver.” But neither his prosperous appearance nor the flattering epistle of the great man could induce his hard-headed parent to favor a scheme “of setting a boy up in business, who wanted yet three years of being at man’s estate.” The independent old tallow-chandler only concluded that the distinguished baronet “must be of small discretion.” So Franklin returned with “some small gifts as tokens” of parental love, much good advice as to “steady industry and prudent parsimony,” but no cash in hand. The gallant governor, however, said: “Since he will not set you up, I will do it myself,” and a plan was soon concocted whereby Franklin was to go to England and purchase a press and types with funds to be advanced by Sir William. Everything was arranged, only from day to day there was delay in the actual delivery to Franklin of the letters of introduction and credit. The governor was a very busy man. The day of sailing came, but the documents had not come, only a message from the governor that Franklin might feel easy at embarking, for that the papers should be sent=8= on board at Newcastle, down the stream. Accordingly, at the last moment, a messenger came hurriedly on board and put the packet into the captain’s hands. Afterward, when during the leisure hours of the voyage the letters were sorted, none was found for Franklin. His patron had simply broken an inconvenient promise. It was indeed a “pitiful trick” to “impose so grossly on a poor innocent boy.” Yet Franklin, in his broad tolerance of all that is bad as well as good in human nature, spoke with good-tempered indifference, and with more of charity than of justice, concerning the deceiver. “It was a habit he had acquired. He wish’d to please everybody; and, having little to give, he gave expectations. He was otherwise an ingenious, sensible man, a pretty good writer, and a good governor for the people…. Several of our best laws were of his planning, and passed during his administration.”

Governor Keith lied repeatedly to Franklin, mislead him into the dangerous and unnecessary journey to England, and decieved a great many others as well. Yet, Franklin’s account of him is kind, balanced, and gives the man full credit for the good things he did. Would any of us have been so kind?

But don’t take this as a compliment on Franklin’s generous personality. It is far more serious matter.

Franklin can take a step back from a situation and view it unemotionally. For an ethical man, this is critical. There is a tendency to assign all evil to an opponent, to never think of him positively, to never consider the situation from that person’s point of view. That tendency throws off judgment and turns the mind away from justice and morality.

A generous view of humanity is often the more accurate one. Viewing one’s enemies as devoid of value puts one surely in the wrong. Viewing with accuracy and balance ennobles the mind and gives substance to decision making.

James Pilant

Enhanced by Zemanta