The rules for success—and a successful life—haven’t changed very much (if they’ve changed at all). There are a certain set of character traits, beliefs, and behaviors that have served people since there have been people. There are virtues that have survived for millennia because they have been found useful, making them subject to the Lindy Effect. The Lindy Effect says that the longer something nonperishable survives, like an idea, the longer it will survive into the future.
Aristotle had a list of 12 virtues that included courage, temperance, liberality, magnificence, pride, honor, good temper, friendliness, truthfulness, wit, friendship, and justice. His list of virtues is around 2,400 years old and as relevant today as they were in Ancient Greece.
The Romans had 14 virtues. As you might imagine, there is a bit of overlap here: Auctoritas (knowing one’s place), Comitas (humor), Clementia (mercy), Dignitas (dignity), Firmitas (tenacity), Frugalitas (frugalness), Gravitas (gravity), Honestas (respectability), Humanitas (humanity, kindness), Industria (industriousness), Pietas (dutifulness), Prudentia (prudence), Salubritas (wholesomeness), Severitas (sternness, discipline), Veritas (truthfulness).
Ben Franklin lived long after the Roman Empire and “the Roman Way” had died. There is roughly 1,300 years between Franklin and Rome’s demise in 476. Franklin had 13 virtues. He wrote his in a book and gave himself marks for keeping them each day. His were temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, chastity, and humility. Being remarkably human, he didn’t always keep these virtues. Many of these virtues go back to what Aristotle held true.
Right now, a lot of people believe disruption is a value. They believe that what has come before is of no use to the future and that everything should be torn down to make way for what is new—even if what is new isn’t an improvement. Human progress has always been incremental, transcending and including what came before. What is working now looks very much like an improvement on what came before.
Even more tend to believe that fame is a virtue, even when many are famous only for being famous, something that would have been confusing to those for whom fame was something earned through contribution. There are too many who have put the cart before the horse, seeking fame without developing themselves and without contribution. Mastery would be a better value (Gravitas).
When it comes to business, the ethos of today is that one should build a business with the intention of flipping it. This ethos is really a pathology of the “get rich quick without working” variety. There are a lot of good reasons to start a business, and one should begin with the end in mind. But to be sure, you start a business because you want to create value for your clients. The thought of starting a business without pouring your heart and soul into is saddening.
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