Griffin and Franklin

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What did Merv Griffin and Benjamin Franklin have in common? They both shared similar principles, one of which was to avoid making enemies, and they both rose from poverty to riches.

One doesn’t have to be ruthless, mean, nasty, unjust or rude in order to achieve success. Hollywood has almost created a cliché of the mean-spirited mogul who runs over people on his way to the top. There are such people. As anybody who’s been around the corporate world knows, there are also sycophants (aka foot-kissers). Some of them are so eager to please their superior, they are comical.

When Griffin died recently, everyone spoke of his kindness and consideration. He interviewed around 25,000 people, mostly entertainers, and those who came forward were unanimous in pointing out that he was always encouraging and kind. If their act was not going well, they said Griffin would whisper during the commercials: "This is a bad audience. Don’t worry about it. You’re doing fine."

Franklin, in his account of systematically trying to acquire virtues, says that at first his list contained only 12, but after a Quaker friend pointed out that he was frequently arrogant and overbearing, Franklin added a 13th, humility. He says with his usual humor that in his struggle to acquire humility, "I cannot boast of much success in acquiring the reality of this virtue, but I had a good deal with regard to the appearance of it."

Franklin says he forbade himself from expressing his own views dogmatically, and when confronted with a proposition he disagreed with, he would acknowledge that the person could be right under some circumstances, but in this particular instance it seemed or appeared to be incorrect. He ascribed his success in influencing other people to this tactic of a soft-spoken approach.

Griffin rose from a singer to a television host to an inventor of game shows ("Wheel of Fortune" and "Jeopardy!" are the most famous) to an owner of hotels and casinos. Like Franklin, he showed that one can be smart without being obnoxious.

The rest of Franklin’s list of virtues, which he was determined to acquire by habit, were temperance, silence, order, resolution, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility and chastity. The world would certainly be a better place, at least our corner of it, if more of us endeavored to acquire these virtues. Franklin admits he wasn’t completely successful, but at least he tried.

I would recommend Franklin’s autobiography to any young person. There’s a great advantage to reading the words of wise people rather than squandering time with the words of idiots and hacks.

Also, I can’t resist pointing out yet again how much valuable time we force our youth to waste by sticking them in public schools. At age 12 to 14, Franklin was working and reading such books as those written by John Bunyan, Daniel Defoe, John Locke and Xenophon, as well as histories. By the age of 16, he was publishing his own newspaper. At 19, he opened his own printing shop. Few people have Franklin’s natural genius, but no one is going to acquire genius spending what could be some their most productive years sitting in a classroom with a dumbed-down curriculum.

There is one other characteristic Franklin and Griffin shared, though separated by centuries. They both had a fine sense of humor and loved to laugh — at themselves and at the foibles of others. Griffin gained a girth similar to Franklin’s, and it’s fun to imagine Franklin showing Griffin around heaven while they laugh at each other’s jokes — two old men who were at peace with themselves and able to accept the world as it is without bitterness or cynicism.

Charley Reese [send him mail] has been a journalist for 49 years.

© 2007 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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