Pretend it’s the 1700s and you run into Benjamin Franklin at a cheesesteak restaurant in Philly.
“Benjamin, my man,” you say. “Happy New Year! Make any resolutions for 1757?”
“No,” Benjamin Franklin says, taking a bite of his cheesesteak. “Homey don’t play dat.”
He leaves a hundred dollar bill in the tip jar, pats you on the back, and walks out the door. Through the restaurant’s front windows, you see him toss the rest of his sandwich to a seagull. The bird catches it midair.
Ben Franklin didn’t make New Year’s resolutions because Ben Franklin didn’t need New Year’s resolutions. His entire life was a resolution.
When he was 20 years old, Benjamin realized if he ever wanted to make a Founding Father out of himself, he’d have to step his game up.
“It’d be dope to invent important things,” a young Benjamin thought. “I want to invent fire departments and libraries and post offices and other good things. Maybe glasses and wood stoves, too. I bet I could figure out how electricity works. I bet I could be the president of Pennsylvania. I bet I help America gain its mo-fuckin independence, for God’s sake.”
He slept on it for a night.
“Yeah. I’mma do every single one of those tings.”
So he did. But like I said, he knew his game needed improvement. He sat down and wrote a list of the virtues he thought would make him a better man.
“I want to be more industrious and resolved, but less smelly and slutty. Also, cheaper and quieter.”
His list virtues included: temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility.
That’s 13 in total, which was auspicious as hell because:
- The OG USA had 13 colonies, so that’s nice
- 13 goes into 52 a clean 4 times, so that’s math
And thus Benjamin had his plan. In a series of four 13-week cycles throughout a year, he would spend a week focusing on each of his virtues. At the end of each day, he’d reflect on how he’d done did. I think he had a crew of playas doing the same thing too, and they’d all meet up to discuss their progress every now and again. Benjamin claimed to have never fully perfected his virtues, but we can agree the dude probably came pretty damn close.
I know Alexander Hamilton’s the hottest Founding Father around right now, but Ben’s always been my man. Having played him in a fourth-grade production about time-traveling revolutionaries, I feel extra connected to the dude. And so for the past two years, I’ve been doing as Ben would—working on my own list of 13 virtues.
I’m not telling you all my virtues, because they’re personal and intimate and I might not even know who da fuq you is. I can, however, share a few.
Last fall, I cut 8 to 10 inches of hair off my head. I wrote a whole blog post about how much I hated it. Here’s a fun fact: I didn’t actually hate the haircut—in fact, it looked way better than my long witchly locks ever did—I just hated that it was a change. I am terrified of change.
I don’t really want to get too deep into it (it requires more self-introspection than I am capable of), but some smart psychologists, James and Elizabeth Bugental, talk about it in their article, “A Fate Worse Than Dying, The Fear of Change.” This is what they say:
“When one feels that identity and the known world are in danger of being swept away, it is truly terrifying. The price of preserving the familiar meaning world and one’s place in it may be literal and physical death.”
See—I’m afraid change will beget death. But most changes don’t, and it’s not like anyone can avoid death anyway. So, we might as well have good haircuts in the meantime.
For me, presence simply means: DON’T CHECK YOUR EMAIL AND SOCIAL MEDIA AND THE WEATHER SO EFFING MUCH.
I still do, but maybe 1% less than I used to.
I try to recycle more and drive less. Mostly because, from what I understand, Earth will be uninhabitable pretty soon, and that will be bad for all of us.
Those are the only ones I feel like sharing. But I do have 13 of them, and I do try to focus on one per week. Sometimes I forget, and sometimes I remember but don’t bother thinking about it. But no matter what, it’s been a useful exercise, if only because it makes me feel like Benjamin Franklin.
If you were planning on making a resolution, maybe try this instead. Or don’t. Remember, the world might be uninhabitable pretty soon, so it won’t matter.