breaking news

NEW: Homicide detectives on scene of Dayton fire where 2 suffered burns

COMMENTARY: You can’t go wrong with Ben Franklin’s wisdom


When I used to teach American literature as part of our sophomore curriculum, I always looked forward to teaching the Ben Franklin excerpts from “Poor Richard’s Almanac.”

Why? First of all, these proverbs and aphorisms reflect a way of thinking that gives great insight into the American psyche and identity of a certain age — the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Second, our continued references to these sayings indicate a kind of lasting wisdom that transcends the centuries that have passed since they were written. Third, I appreciate the economy of words, saying much with so little. Fourth, I challenged my students to explain their meaning, apply them to our contemporary times, and come up with some of their own.

Here are some of Franklin’s famous sayings, with a bit of commentary of my own.

Love your neighbor, yet don’t pull down your hedge. But if you trim your hedge, you can keep the best qualities of your neighbor in your line of vision while blocking out the worst. This saying may also add to the debate about a barrier on our southern border.

Beware of little expenses; a small leak will sink a great ship. And credit cards, though only half an ounce in actual weight, can bring tons of debt and a Great Lake full of financial burden.

Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterward. Your ears are a different story. If you tune out a spouse, you will likely never hear the end of it.

If your head is wax, don’t walk in the sun. I continue to be amazed at how many men nowadays choose to shave their heads, especially since it is cold around here five months out of the year.

They who have nothing to trouble them will be troubled at nothing. More recently, Bobby McFerrin said it best with “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Avoid trouble at all cost? Not going to happen, but by why not eliminate concerns over matters that you cannot influence or control?

Life’s tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late. It amazes me how our children in their mid-20s have increased their respect for their parents who knew absolutely nothing when they (the kids) were teenagers.

He that is good at making excuses is seldom good at anything else. Amen to this. Teachers are particularly good at excuse detection. Teachers who are also parents are even better. Politicians, beware.

He that is of the opinion money will do everything may well be suspected of doing everything for money. Money may not be the root of all evil, but it certainly has compromised the values of many who have either too much of it or too little.

What maintains one vice would bring up two children. Those who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, to gambling in its myriad forms, or to illicit, immoral sex can vouch for this.

To be humble to superiors is duty, to equals courtesy, to inferiors nobleness. I couldn’t say it any better. To be humble is to have a proper sense of your place in the universe (not too high and not too low) along with an accurate assessment of your own strengths and weaknesses.

He that falls in love with himself will have no rivals. Updated inclusive wording: They who fall in love with themselves will have no rivals. The story of the self-absorbed Narcissus is one that we have all observed in others or can relate to ourselves.

Little strokes fell great oaks. Yes, a huge project can be overwhelming unless you chip away at its various tasks in a step-by-step process. But when it comes to taking down an actual oak tree, a chainsaw works much better.

Jim Brooks is a retired English teacher, and a regular contributor.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Opinion

Opinion: Gun control about saving lives, not waging culture wars

WASHINGTON — You have perhaps heard the joke about the liberal who is so open-minded that he can’t even take his own side in an argument. What’s less funny is that on gun control, liberals have been told for years that if they do take their own side in the argument, they will only hurt their cause. Supporters of even modest restrictions...
Opinion: Photo captures Trump's notes for listening session
Opinion: Photo captures Trump's notes for listening session

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump held a worthwhile listening session Wednesday featuring a range of views on how to combat gun violence in schools. And while Trump's at-times-meandering comments about arming teachers will certainly raise eyebrows, for the most part he did listen. Thanks in part, it seems, to a helpful reminder. Washington...
Opinion: Going to school shouldn’t turn into a death sentence

MIAMI — I know a high-school senior who hadn’t heard the awful news from Parkland before he got home Wednesday. He stared at the television and said, “What?” And, moments later, shaking his head: “What the hell?” This young man doesn’t know anyone who goes to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High, though it’s...
Opinion: Parkland school student rises up to challenge gun carnage

WASHINGTON — It was a profoundly poignant image: Thirty to 40 teens huddled together in a small dark room, their downturned faces illuminated by cellphones as they learned about an active shooter prowling their school. Via news apps, these survivors of Wednesday’s murderous rampage at a Parkland, Florida, high school, where 17 were killed...
Opinion: Will automation kill our jobs?

A recent article in The Guardian dons the foreboding title “Robots will destroy our jobs — and we’re not ready for it.” The article claims, “For every job created by robotic automation, several more will be eliminated entirely. … This disruption will have a devastating impact on our workforce.” According to...
More Stories