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Self-Control is the core character trait for the month of December. Often a key topic in self-help books, the character trait of self-control is important not just to successful leaders, but also to citizens in democratic republics like the United States of America.

What is Self-Control?

Self-Control is the ability to govern ourselves. It is rejecting wrong desire and doing what is right.

Where does the word come from?

Word etymology: In 1711 the term was coined by the English moral philosopher Anthony Ashley Cooper Shaftesbury and refers to control or restraint of oneself or one’s actions, feelings, etc.

Self-Control in Action: Benjamin Franklin

The 15th child of a soap and candle maker, Benjamin Franklin was not born into the elite of society. However, today he is known as one of the United States’ Founding Fathers, an inventor, writer, abolitionist, diplomat, postmaster and a wealthy man. His life is the first real example of the American Dream. He would not have risen so far in life without the self-control necessary to always better himself and work hard.

Famous for saying “a republic, if you can keep it” when asked what kind of government the Framers had given Americans, Franklin believed the character of a country’s citizens is what sustains a representative government. A self-governing republic requires citizens with the self-control to govern their passions and actions as well as a sense of civic responsibility to participate in the government. The character and morals of citizens was of such great concern to Franklin that most of his writing addresses this topic.

How did a candle maker’s son rise to such prominence?

Leaving school at 10 years old, Franklin started working for his father, but his interest in reading and writing led to him being apprenticed two years later to work for his brother James as a printer. Determined to always improve his own writing skills, he borrowed many books and imitated the style used by the different authors.

Dedicated to self-betterment, Franklin formed the “Junto,” a self-improvement group that debated morality, philosophy and politics. Knowing the importance of language, he learned French, Italian, Spanish, and Latin.

Recognizing that a man’s success is greatly influenced by his ability to control his inclinations, passions and actions, Franklin created a list of 13 virtues that he strove to master: Temperance, Silence, Order, Resolution, Frugality, Industry, Sincerity, Justice, Moderation, Cleanliness, Tranquility, Chastity, and Humility.

Each week he worked on one virtue and kept careful note of his growth and failings in the virtue. He ordered the virtues so that each virtue built on the previous one. By focusing first on temperance first he hoped to gain a clear head that would allow for the constant vigilance needed to acquire the other virtues. In seeking to acquire these 13 virtues, Franklin’s goal was self-mastery.

It was Franklin’s self-control that enabled him accomplish things that still influence people today. Whether it be the lightning rod, daylight savings time, bifocal eyeglasses, the Declaration of Independence, the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended the Revolutionary War, or public libraries, his dedication to bettering himself and society has had a lasting impact on the world.

Quotes from Benjamin Franklin

“Educate your children to self-control, to the habit of holding passion and prejudice and evil tendencies subject to an upright and reasoning will, and you have done much to abolish misery from their future and crimes from society.” – Benjamin Franklin

“If passion drives you, let reason hold the reins.” – Benjamin Franklin

“It is the working man who is the happy man. It is the idle man who is the miserable man.” – Benjamin Franklin

Discussion Questions

  • Why is self-control important? How can a lack of self-control keep you from reaching your goals?
  • How can developing self-control help you improve as a student? As a son or daughter?
  • Benjamin Franklin set himself 13 virtues in which to grow. Are there any virtues you can work on that will strengthen your ability to govern yourself?
  • How is being disciplined related to self-control?

  1. Click to read about Wisdom, the character trait of September.
  2. Click to read about Justice, the character trait of October.
  3. Click to read about Endurance, the character trait of November.
  4. Click to read about Love, the character trait of January.
  5. Click to read about Integrity, the character trait of February.
  6. Click to read about Determination, the character trait of March.
  7. Click to read about Gratefulness, character trait of April.
  8. Click to read about Humility, character trait of May.
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