Ben Franklin was 21 when he first gathered friends and thought leaders for drinks and dinner on Friday nights. Invitees included poets and laborers, academics and politicians. The cohort was a motley one, but they shared one thing: a desire to improve themselves and their communities.
In his autobiography, Franklin laid out basic terms for these dinners:
“…every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discuss’d by the company; and once in three months produce and read an essay of his own writing, on any subject he pleased.
Our debates were to be under the direction of a president, and to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire of victory; and to prevent warmth, all expressions of positiveness in opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.”
Each meeting followed a set format, a series of business and personal questions acting as a springboard for conversation and creation. Volunteer fire-fighters, night watchmen, and a public hospital emerged from these discussions. In hopes Franklin’s questions might inspire you, I’ve included a few here:
- Have you met with any thing in the author you last read, remarkable, or suitable…particularly in history, morality, poetry, physics, travels, mechanic arts, or other parts of knowledge?
- What new story have you lately heard agreeable for telling in conversation?
- Hath any citizen in your knowledge failed in his business and what have you heard of the cause?
- Have you heard of any citizen’s thriving well and by what means?
- Do you know of any fellow citizen, who has lately done a worthy action, deserving praise and imitation?
- Do you think of any thing at present, in which our group may be serviceable to mankind, to their country, to their friends, or to themselves?
- Do you know of any deserving young beginner, whom it lies in the power of our group in any way to encourage?
- Have you lately observed any defect in the laws, of which it would be proper to move the legislature an amendment? Do you know of any beneficial law that is wanting?
- Have you lately observed any encroachment on the just liberties of the people?
- Is there any man whose friendship you want, and which our group, or any of our members, can procure for you?
- Have you lately heard any member’s character attacked and how have you defended it?
- In what manner can we assist you in any of your honorable designs?
- Have you any weighty affair in hand in which you think our advice may be of service?
- What benefits have you lately received from any man not present?
- Do you love truth for truth’s sake and will you endeavor impartially to find and receive it yourself and communicate it to others?
There are men and women everywhere who are committed to asking questions, doing good, and improving themselves and their communities. Find them. Bring them together. Our world will be better for it.
“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” -Ben Franklin