Music and the Spoken Word

The Morning and Evening Questions - Sunday, December 28, 2014

Benjamin Franklin is known for many things; he was a founding father, statesman, scientist, philosopher, author, entrepreneur, inventor, and businessman. But as great as his achievements are, he was aware of his own failings and tirelessly sought to improve them. He wrote, “I was surpris’d to find myself so much fuller of faults than I had imagined; but I had the satisfaction of seeing them diminish.”1

To help him in his quest for self-improvement, he began each day with what he called the morning question: “What good shall I do this day?” and ended with the evening question: “What good have I done to-day?”2 This desire to do good outweighed everything else for Franklin, including any desire to receive credit or compensation for the good he did.

Among Franklin’s many inventive contributions to the world was a fuel-efficient, economical home-heating stove, known as the Franklin stove. Obtaining a patent for such a useful invention could have brought a great deal of wealth, but when Franklin was offered a patent on his stove, he declined.3 He believed that any knowledge he had gained was not his personal property but something he should share.4 He wrote, “As we enjoy great advantages from the inventions of others, we should be glad of an opportunity to serve others by any invention of ours; and this we should do freely and generously.”5

The start of a new year gives us all a chance to think more “freely and generously” about the contributions we can make in the coming days and months. Perhaps as we look back to reflect on the past year, we can also look forward to opportunities to learn and grow and contribute. We would be wise, at this commencement of a fresh calendar, to ask ourselves Benjamin Franklin’s morning and evening questions: “What good shall I do today?” and “What good have I done today?” Those daily, positive efforts will add up to make this a productive and happy new year.

- Lloyd D. Newell

1. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin (1906), 92.
2. Autobiography, 91.
3. See Autobiography, 123.
4. See Blaine McCormick, foreword to Ben Franklin: America’s Original Entrepreneur (2008), xiv.
5. Autobiography, 123–24.