Stories of virtue: How they can inspire us

Stories of virtue inspire

The power of story helps us understand what it means to be human.

Stories of virtue inspire us. They are a reminder that we aren’t the first person to experience a challenge. I recently re-read the timeless story of Benjamin Franklin to understand the challenges he faced to achieve his success. Benjamin Franklin is known for his role in forming a new country, but his life continues to inspire people today.

Despite being born into poverty and only receiving two years of formal schooling, Franklin became a successful printer, scientist, musician, and author. He learned to speak French, Italian, Spanish, and Latin through self-study and conversation. The actions he took to overcome the limitations of his background is indeed inspirational. I am grateful for the example of Franklin and other inspiring people because they provide an understanding of what it means to be fully human.

History is rich with stories of virtue with examples of people who faced obstacles and overcame them. Battles don’t always need to involve armed conflict. They can be a battle with poverty, disease, injustice and more. How people faced their battles make provide insight into our lives when we have battles to face. Here are three ways how stories of virtue can inspire us in our own lives.


Learning about people who acted in a virtuous way inspires us.

Benjamin Franklin is an American legend. In addition to his role in the foundation of a new country, he exemplifies the idea of the “self-made man.” Franklin’s quest for a life of virtue is a powerful story. The key to Franklin’s success was his drive to constantly read, educate and improve himself to accomplish his ambitions.

In 1726, at the age of 20, Benjamin Franklin set his loftiest goal: the attainment of moral perfection. On a return trip from England, he developed a list of 13 virtues which he believed was a complete list for his aim of moral perfection. Benjamin Franklin lists his virtues as temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquillity, chastity, and humility. Franklin did not simply write a list of virtues and stop. Brett McKay wrote about this quest in more detail which you read here. Benjamin Franklin reflected on these virtues and put them into practice.



Stories of virtue provide the spark that helps us reflect on what is important.

Benjamin Franklin made it his daily goal to reflect daily on what he read, learned and the actions he took. He would determine if his actions aligned with his 13 virtues and record them in his journal. He practiced this method throughout his lifetime, continually making adjustments to his thoughts and actions to achieve his aim for moral perfection.

Benjamin Franklin did not claim that he achieved moral perfection, but his life was enriched because of his practice. This story of self-determination and a diligent practice striving to live a virtuous life provides a spark so that we may live a more virtuous life.

I’ve learned to reflect on the virtues that are important to me when I’ve faced a major life decision or crisis. My most recent life decision to retire from the U.S. Army Reserve after 28 years of service caused me to reflect on my virtues. I am humbled and grateful for the opportunity to serve my country. Yet, the virtue of loyalty to my family was greater than my sense of duty for continued service. It was a hard decision since I hold loyalty and duty very high.

When we understand what is important, we cultivate our virtues to become habitual in daily life.


Putting your thoughts into action improves your life.

Putting our virtues into action allows us to develop our potential and live a more purposeful life. Benjamin Franklin said that there is nothing so likely to make one’s fortune as their virtues. When we develop the habit of being more virtuous, we take the helm of our own life, redirecting its course towards greater fulfillment, peace, and joy.


Read- Learning about people who acted in a virtuous way inspires us.
Reflect- Stories of virtue provides the spark that helps us reflect on what is important.
Respond- Putting your thoughts into action improves your life.


If you want to learn more about the life of Benjamin Franklin, here are some book recommendations:

Benjamin Franklin: An American Life by Walter Isaacson

The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin by Benjamin Franklin

The First American: The Life and Times of Benjamin Franklin by H. W. Brands

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