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Benjamin Franklin’s Black Book

Still, as failures go, we’re in good company. Take Benjamin Franklin. As a young man, Ben composed a master list of 12 resolutions, later tacking on a killer 13th (“Imitate Jesus and Socrates”). He had particular difficulty, he notes in his Autobiography, with Resolution No. 2 (“Silence—Avoid trifling conversation”), No. 3 (“Order—Let all your things have their places”) and No. 5 (“Frugality—Waste nothing”).

Ben kept track of his performance in a small book in which he entered a black mark each day for each resolution broken. He had intended to reuse the little book, eventually erasing old black marks as his performance improved. It didn’t. So many black marks appeared on top of black marks that the little book developed holes. He had to resort to keeping his records on a piece of ivory, from which the accumulated black marks could be tactfully mopped off with a wet sponge.

“Clean Slate,” from “Harrowsmith Country Life’” by Rebecca Rupp, (VT, January ‘96), quoted in Reader’s Digest, p. 27