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Posted by on July 14, 2015

“Moral compass”?  I don’t know what that means.”

That’s not surprising, given the social morass with which you’re surrounded; and since our culture isn’t overflowing with either morality or direction,  it makes sense to wonder what, exactly, is a moral compass.

Let me define terms for a minute so we’re on the same page.

moral  adjective  concerned with the principles of right and wrong behavior and the goodness or badness of human character.  Synonyms:  virtuous, good, righteous, upright, upstanding, high-minded, principled, honorable, honest, just, noble, incorruptible, scrupulous, respectable, decent, clean-living, law-abiding

compass  noun  a. A device used to determine geographic direction, usually consisting of a magnetic needle or needles horizontally mounted or suspended and free to pivot until aligned with the earth’s magnetic field.

Some think morality is a list of things you can’t do.  This generates significant heat:  “Who do you think you are, telling me what I CAN’T do?”


Others think morality is a list of stuff you’re supposed to do.  This also generates significant heat:  “Where do you get off thinkin’ you can tell ME what to do?  You don’t TELL me what to DO!”


tennis animated GIF

Between these two vigorously-vocal groups are the folks in the stands wearing shades and visors or sunhats, heads swiveling like fans watching McEnroe argue with anybody having a pulse.


I know what you’re thinking:  Minister and chaplain.  Yep.  He’s gonna lay The Big Ten on me.

Okay, wait.  I thought you said you had no idea what a moral code is.

     “Well, what I meant was—–“
Yeah.  That’s what I thought.  Save it, all right?  This isn’t a game.  If you want to treat it like one, you might as well sit this post out.  Play Sudoku on your iPad.  Goof off on Facebook until your break’s over.  Text a random number and tell ’em, “Have A Nice Day!”  If you work from home, here’s a short recipe for Super-Strength Bubbles.  Mix 6 cups of water with 1 cup of corn syrup and 2 cups of regular-strength dish soap – like Joy.  Take a break from life’s cloying stress.  Make a bubblemaker from just about anything, go outside and make some huge, almost-indestructible bubbles.

The rest of you–as long as our friend brought it up, feel free to check out The Big 10.  They’re in the Old Testament books of Exodus (20:1-17) and Deuteronomy (5:4-21).  They’re not complicated, which is why they’re so ‘offensive’.  Mark Twain:  “It’s not the parts of the Bible I don’t understand that bother me.”

Let’s not stop there.  History – the real kind, not the spoonfed, heavily-redacted and -revised offal mentioned in the QTMs for 10 July – has its share of moral codes strangely reading a lot like The Code given by God to Moses.

One to which I’ll refer you is a fascinating read.  I can’t print it for you here because it’s copyrighted and I’ve not yet heard back from the author.  However, whip out your trusty Google machine and type in, “Dr. Kent. M. Keith Universal Moral Code”.  It’s interesting and sounds familiar.

Since this series got jump-started over July 4th, here’s something you may or may not know exists.  I could easily fill pages of amplifying comments to this, but I trust my readers.  I’ve bragged often that 2nd Cup readers are thinkers in their own right.  None of you need to be primed or given leading questions.

Therefore, I’m closing this post out with

Benjamin Franklin’s List of 13 Virtues

Benjamin Franklin extensively studied our world’s major religions and the various moral codes of which I wrote earlier.  From all of these he came up with a list of thirteen main virtues by which he felt every person ought to strive to live their lives.  As such, he himself attempted the task of always living by this code each day.  He even charted his effectiveness to assure he was on track to constantly improve himself.

He would start with one of the virtues and mark his progress on the chart until he felt he’d mastered that one; then he’d move on to the next, until he mastered them all.  He even listed them in the order they appear below, because some of them naturally lead to the next.  By keeping to this order, he felt it was easier to achieve the whole list.



So.  Here, then, is Ben Franklin’s List of Thirteen Virtues written in his personal style.

1.  TEMPERANCE:  Eat not to dullness, drink not to elevation.

2.  SILENCE:  Speak not but what may benefit others or yourself.  Avoid trifling Conversation.

3.  ORDER:  Let all your Things have their Places.  Let each Part of your Business have its Time.

4.  RESOLUTION:  Resolve to perform what you ought.  Perform without fail what you resolve.

5.  FRUGALITY:  Make no Expense but to do good to others or yourself:  i.e. Waste Nothing.

6.  INDUSTRY:  Lose no Time.  Be always employ’d in something useful.  Cut off all unnecessary Actions.

7.  SINCERITY:  Use no hurtful Deceit.  Think innocently and justly; and, if you speak, speak accordingly.

8.  JUSTICE:  Wrong none, by doing injuries or omitting the Benefits that are your Duty.

9.  MODERATION:  Avoid Extremes.  Forbear resenting Injuries so much as you think they deserve.

10.  CLEANLINESS:  Tolerate no Uncleanness in Body, Clothes or Habitation.

11.  TRANQUILITY:  Be not disturbed at Trifles, or at Accidents common or unavoidable.

12.  CHASTITY:  Rarely use Venery* but for Health or Offspring; Never to Dullness, Weakness, or the Injury of your own or another’s Peace or Reputation.

13.  HUMILITY:  Imitate Jesus and Socrates.


* Venery is an old word meaning the pursuit of sexual indulgence.

Yes.  A question or comment?  Yeah; guy in the green and yellow plaid shorts with the Hawaiian shirt.

     “Yeah, um, it sounds to me like old Ben took the Ten Commandments to heart, and then sat down to figure out what that looks like in real life.  Y’know?  I mean, I’m no deep brain, here, but that all makes a lot of sense.”

Great observation.  It sounded like that to me, too.  It helped give me a practical, daily handle, a tutorial on how to use a moral compass.

Yeah.  We Americans definitely need to know how to use it – every one of us.


© d. dean boone, July 2015

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