Benjamin Franklin and Business Ethics

An excerpt from The True Benjamin Franklin

Author: Sydney George Fisher

Franklin was by nature a public man; but the beginning of his life as an office-holder may be said to have dated from his appointment as clerk of the Assembly. This took place in 1736, when he had been in business for himself for some years, and his newspaper and “Poor Richard” were well under way. It was a tiresome task to sit for hours listening to buncombe speeches, and drawing magic squares and circles to while away the time. But he valued the appointment because it gave him influence with the members and a hold on the public printing.

The second year his election to the office was opposed; an influential member wanted the place for a friend, and Franklin had a chance to show a philosopher’s skill in practical politics.

“Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I return’d it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met, in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends and our friendship continued to his death. This is another instance of the truth of an old maxim I had learned, which says ‘He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.’” (Bigelow’s Franklin from his own Writings, vol. i. p. 260.)

Some people have professed to be very much shocked at this disingenuous trick, as they call it, although perhaps capable of far more discreditable ones themselves. It would be well if no worse could be said of modern practical politics.

Benjamin Franklin and Business Ethics

I confess to have done similar things myself having been a student of Franklin since I was in high school. (It took me an age to figure out what venery was!) 

There was a mail service in the building where I worked. The mail often contained items of some confidentiality so I asked the our version of a postman to give the letters only to me. Well, a few days passed and the office gossip brought in the letters after having gone through them. I was enraged and decided to go out and tell off the guy. Fortunately this thought passed away instantly as I realized that the busybody would have the letters from then on.

So, the next day I went over and told him how much I appreciated his giving the mail to me only, how it helped me with my work and how few people who did his work would have realized its importance and helped me in the matter. The office busybody never got the mail again. (And the postman and I were buddies from then on.)

Needless to say, I don’t consider Franklin’s action a mean trick. I think it is just a good way to get to know someone.

James Pilant

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