Benjamin Frankin is well known for his proverbs and aphorisms—advice and observations that continue to convey timeless truths. Salute Franklin by pairing a few of his lesser-known adages with anecdotes that demonstrate his enduring wisdom.
Ben Franklin, founder of Poor Richard’s Almanack and honored on the front cover of The Old Farmer’s Almanac as “the father” of the genre, died on April 17, 1790.
He that would catch fish must venture his bait.
A young clerk who worked for a department store had an idea for a store that would sell only items costing a dime or less. The clerk approached his boss and asked him to invest in the plan, but the boss dismissed the idea as being too risky. “There aren’t enough items to sell for 5 or 10 cents,” he told the clerk.
The young man opened his first store without his boss’s help. Eventually, F. W. Woolworth’s stores stretched across the nation, leading his former boss to comment, “As far as I can figure out, each word I used to turn Woolworth down cost me about a million dollars.”
Studies of older Americans have shown that those who take risks are the healthiest, live the longest, and remain in the best of spirits. Extreme risk has its own hazards, of course, but too much self-protection can hinder our growth.
Teach your child to hold his tongue—he’ll learn fast enough to speak.
The writer Dorothy Parker (1893–1967) was once talking with a friend about a well-known and talkative celebrity. “She’s so outspoken” the friend said.
“By whom?” quipped Parker.
Why do some people talk too much? They may simply be insecure and nervous, covering a lack of confidence with a blanket of chatter. Other people seem unable to gauge a listener’s level of interest and thus go on for hours. Then there are those who dominate conversations because they are convinced that they are the most interesting person in the room. Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919) once invited a famous hunter to dine at the White House and gave him some pointers about hunting. The dinner lasted for 2 hours, and the hunter came out of it with a dazed look on his face. When asked what he had told the president, he replied, “My name. After that he did all the talking.”
What you would seem to be, be really.
After World War II, Gen. Douglas MacArthur (1880–1964) and Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890–1969) were both named as possible candidates for the presidency. MacArthur was serving in Tokyo at the time, and Eisenhower went to visit him. In the course of their conversation, Eisenhower offered the opinion that no military man should ever be president of the United States. MacArthur assessed his old colleague for a moment and said, “That’s the way to play it, Ike.”
Well, we know how that worked out.
A veteran of an earlier war, James Monroe (1758–1831), became the fifth president of the United States. Monroe, who had dropped out of college at William and Mary to fight in the American Revolution was never considered to be a brilliant man, but his honesty and integrity were beyond reproach. In the words of Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), “He is a man whose soul might be turned wrong side outwards without discovering a blemish.”
How does one go about gaining such a reputation? Humorist Will Rogers (1879–1935) advised, “Live in such a way that you would not be ashamed to sell your parrot to the town gossip.”