People from Different Nations, Socioeconomic Backgrounds
“It is commonly believed that different people from different nations, socioeconomic backgrounds, or ethnicities have very different intentions. However, this is rarely true. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin recounted Benjamin Franklin’s life from his birth until the French and Indian War in epistolary format. The book recounted Franklin’s boyhood, his personal life, his establishment of the library, his work to help the city of Philadelphia, his political career, and many other experiences. Franklin wrote his autobiography with humility, and emphasized his determination to achieve high moral standards. Meanwhile, Booker T. Washington, in his autobiography, Up From Slavery, retold important events in his life, such as his childhood as a slave, his struggle for an education, and his success with Tuskegee Institute. Downplaying the role of slavery in his life, Washington emphasized the importance of hard work through manual labor in ascending to prosperity. Although Franklin and Washington experienced very different circumstances, both were dedicated to improving their own learning and helping others improve as well. The autobiographies of Benjamin Franklin and Booker T. Washington both exemplify the importance of hard work and education for self-improvement through literacy, planning, integrity, and manual labor.
Franklin believed that continually reading and practicing writing would help him learn new things and achieve his goals. He strove to emulate the writers that he admired, and he joined the group Junto to help improve his writing and philosophy skills. Later, he established a library to help other people in his nation gain literacy and knowledge as well. As Franklin remarks, “Without entering into the discussion, he took the occasion to talk to me about the manner of writing… I fell far short of elegance in expression… I saw the justice of his remarks… and determined to endeavor at improvement” (11). He knew that feedback was important because it helped him learn from his mistakes and improve his ability to communicate his ideas. By explaining how he continually improved his skills in reading and writing to gain knowledge, The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin exemplifies the importance of hard work and education in self-improvement.
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Franklin believed that detailed planning was important in achieving his goals. He made outlines and schedules to structure his days, encourage hard work, give peace of mind, and lay out progression in mastering virtues. On one of these schedules, Franklin writes, “What good shall I do this day? Rise, wash, and address Powerful Goodness! Contrive day’s business, and take the resolution of the day; prosecute the present study, and breakfast” (68). Through schedules like these, Franklin reminded himself all day, every day to be conscious in his decision making, achieving his goals and values from the time he woke up and ate breakfast. In addition to including other motivational maxims later in the day, he was also intentional about using planning to achieve high moral standards. Franklin decided, “I judg’d it would be well not to distract my attention by attempting the whole at once, but to fix it on one of them at a time; and when I should be master of that, then proceed to another, and so on…” (65). He believed that there is a progression in how he should perfect his virtues, thinking that perfecting temperance would make perfecting silence easier, which would make obtaining order and resolution easier, and so on and so forth. Franklin even recorded how well he performed each virtue in a journal, reminding him to persevere in his goals, even when temptation challenged him. Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography demonstrates the importance of learning and hard work in self-improvement by detailing the plans and initiatives he took to be conscious in decision making and perfecting virtues.
Washington stressed the importance of integrity, especially towards people of different ethnicities, in achieving goals. One of Washington’s key beliefs was that African-Americans and whites could be reconcile one another by building businesses and character. In speaking to his white audiences, Washington appealed to the virtue of honesty to reveal the evils of racial discrimination. As Washington professed, “The wrong to the Negro is temporary, but to the morals of the white man the injury is permanent… The white man who begins by cheating a Negro usually ends by cheating a white man” (Chapter XI). In the same way, Washington appealed to his readers by teaching that honesty towards all people is the best way people can improve themselves. He noticed that racism and other forms of discrimination hurt the self more than they hurt other people because they harm character and close people off from many opportunities. The life and words of Booker T. Washington reveal the importance of unconditional honesty, and education to promote it, in self-improvement.
Washington used manual labor, commonly associated with the drudgery of slavery, for self-advancement, believing that manual labor is important for strengthening character. His curriculum at Hampton and his philosophy for Tuskegee both emphasized the importance of manual labor in building character. He recalled, “[W]e wanted to be careful not to educate our students out of sympathy with agricultural life, so that they would be attracted from the country to the cities and yield to the temptation of trying to live by their wits” (Washington Chapter VIII). Washington believed that manual labor promotes virtues that encourage satisfaction, and if people lost their connection to labor, their character would decline. In asserting the dignity and importance of labor, he looked back on a white teacher he had at Hampton Institute, saying that “It was hard for me at this time to understand how a woman of her education and social standing could take such delight in performing such service, in order to assist in the elevation of an unfortunate race” (Washington Chapter IV). Through this mentorship, Washington remembered how he learned that labor is not a disgrace, but that it promotes humility, honesty, selflessness, and a job well done. From his experiences, Booker T. Washington learned and believed that manual labor strengthens character traits that are necessary for self-improvement.
Through extensive amounts of reading and writing, detailed planning, unconditional integrity, and manual labor, Benjamin Franklin and Booker T. Washington both exemplified the importance of education and hard work in self-improvement. Benjamin Franklin was a voracious reader who constantly desired to improve his literacy skills and help others improve their literacy as well. In addition, he pursued self-improvement through extensive planning of his time and his life in order to promote virtue. Similarly, Booker T. Washington stressed the importance of honesty towards people of all ethnic groups to promote opportunity and self-improvement. Lastly, Washington believed that manual labor and the character traits it fostered were necessary to help people accomplish their goals in life. The lives of both Benjamin Franklin and Booker T. Washington teach that all people in all cultures can work hard to overcome their circumstances, learn new things, and achieve their goals in life.”