20 October 2011

What I Didn't Learn In School

Forgive me...this would have come out last night...but well, read the corollaries below.

So, tonight, I'm supposed to talk about Ben Franklin.  I will make the best effort I can, but a few things are set against me:

1. I attended a workout class at my local YMCA tonight.  The title of the class?  Body Assault.  Funny, I know.  I do feel like I've been assaulted.  I am particularly feeling depleted of energy, and so we will see how the exhausted brain functions.

2.  I finished the 'Conclusions' portion of the biography nearly 24 hours ago, which wrapped up BF's life in a nice neat nutshell (with modern commentary).  Thus, it's been near two days since I've read the "good stuff".  I hope I remember enough of what I wanted to say to sound coherent.

So, let's get to it.  I'm going to write this up as it makes logical sense to me - in the form of lists.

What I Admire About B. Franklin:

1. Industrious.  He was a really hardworker, and he really believed that ethic was the key to success.  He “retired” in his forties, but he still continued to be active (especially in Paris).

2.  Clever.  A 14-year-old boy writing anonymous, satirical letters under the psuedonym Silence Dogood (a middle-aged widow woman)?  On top of that - the letters being really popular?  Yeah, clever, indeed.

3. Diplomatic.  Maybe this falls under wisdom, but he knew when to compromise, when to be quiet, and when to ardently advocate.  I still can't believe all the plates this guy was spinning as he enlisted France's help during the American Revolution, not to mention the finagling of the Paris Peace Treaty.  On top of that, the tiptoe-tightwalking he did during the drafting of the Constitution.

4.  Pragmatic/Practical.  This might be my favorite BF quality.  Over and over again he demonstrated a desire to do things and produce things that would increase man's productivity and comfort.  He ultimately believed working together, being part of a community, was far favorable to operating in one's own sphere.

5.  Philanthropic.   He was very civic-minded.  He began clubs, programs, and schools, all with that practical benefit of advancing others.

On the other hand,

1.  The last seventeen years of his wife's life, Ben spent fifteen of those abroad in various diplomatic capacities.  Even though she (Deborah) wrote to him, speaking of her declining health, he chose not to return to America to her.  He also chose not to return even when his only daughter (or son, for that matter), married or when they later birthed his grandchildren.  Even though he completely able to make the voyage, and the business that carried him overseas in the first place was not urgent.

2. He was very adamant about taking his two grandsons to France (one was 17, one was 7) during the American Revolution.  He accompanied them, to serve as America's ambassador/negotiator near Paris.  Shortly after arriving, BF shipped the seven-year-old off to an academy in Switzerland.  Even when the child grew frail and introverted from loneliness, homesickness, etc., Franklin did not send for him, visit him, or increase communications to him.

3. He was not adverse to the practice of nepotism, as he ceaselessly tried to procure jobs for his son (until they stopped speaking for good), grandsons, son-in-law, nephews, etc.

And…as is typical, I'm now run out of steam on this.  Lest I fall victim to Bill Clinton syndrome, let me say that I understand that a person's public life may be very different from their private lives, and that we shouldn't always be so quick to intermingle the two.  However, the Isaacson bio is very clear: Ben Franklin was eager to mix public and private, business and pleasure whenever possible…so, should we  as well, to follow his example?

That BF was a self-directed, hardworking compromiser is truth.  That he was curious, meticulous, practical is well-documented and discussed.  That he was perhaps the most important players during the drafting of the Constitution is no hyperbole.  That's the rhetoric we all learned.  What point would there have been in learning about his illegitimate child, innumerable flirtations and dalliances with younger women (while his wife was living, and then when she passed), and his remonstrances to his wife to be “frugal” while he lived an indulgent, indolent life in France?  None, probably.

History is indeed written by the winners.

1 comment:

  1. HD:

    If truth be told, a little digging will bring up some dirt on almost every one of our national heroes. BF is no exception.