As I mentioned previously, I’m currently reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. While talking about her research, Gretchen briefly touches upon her writing club and how it was inspired by a club for mutual improvement that Benjamin Franklin started. Apparently, for over 40 years (40 years!!!), Benjamin Franklin and a group of friends and acquaintances would meet weekly to discuss ways to improve themselves and society. I was fascinated by this. I know that there are clubs like this out there today, but I found the idea of so many people meeting weekly for the sole benefit of mutual improvement completely inspiring and uplifting, and I wanted to learn more about it.
The club was created in 1727 and was called the Junto Club. The name Junto was a derivative of the Latin participle “jungere” which means “to join.” Benjamin Franklin was only 21 years old when he started the club, and in the beginning it only had five members. Over the course of it’s 40 year span the club grew to a membership of 12. Franklin personally picked each member. According to Wikipedia, “the members of the Junto were drawn from diverse occupations and backgrounds, but they all shared a spirit of inquiry and a desire to improve themselves, their community, and to help others. Among the original members were printers, surveyors, a cabinetmaker, a clerk, and a bartender. Although most of the members were older than Franklin, he was clearly their leader.”
For over 40 years these men got together every Friday night to discuss current events, politics, and moral issues. Together, they would brainstorm ideas about how they as individuals could better serve society. Franklin frequently wrote about the Junto in his autobiography:
I should have mentioned before, that, in the autumn of the preceding year, I had formed most of my ingenious acquaintance into a club of mutual improvement, which we called the JUNTO; we met on Friday evenings. The rules that I drew up required that every member, in his turn, should produce one or more queries on any point of Morals, Politics, or Natural Philosophy, to be discussed 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 positive opinions, or direct contradiction, were after some time made contraband, and prohibited under small pecuniary penalties.
Franklin created a list of questions to use a guideline and springboard for discussion at each meeting. These questions covered a range of personal, political, business, intellectual, and community topics, such as asking why local businesses were succeeding or failing, weather a local citizen had done something deserved praise and attention, and if so, how they could go about recognizing that achievement. Most of the questions were highly honorable, such as “do you think of any thing at present, in which the Junto may be serviceable to mankind? to their country, to their friends, or to themselves?” and “do you know of any deserving young beginner lately set up, whom it lies in the power of the Junto any way to encourage?” Though the overall theme was that of mutual improvement, I did find it somewhat amusing that some of the questions sounded a bit less noble and a little more mafia like, such as “hath any man injured you, from whom it is in the power of the Junto to procure redress?”
Turns out, the Junto club led to some of the best things we have in modern day life. As members of the club became more successful and grew professionally, their influence on society was huge and far-reaching. Their enthusiasm and love for books and knowledge led to to the creation of the very first library.Their ideas lead to the development of the first public hospital, volunteer fire department, and paved streets. In fact, it was this group that the American Philosophical Society was based on.
Admittedly, I don’t know nearly as much about Benjamin Franklin as I should, but… wow. What a powerful group! It is such an affirmation to the power of community, the power of good people getting together.
While I would love to join a club for mutual improvement, the idea of meeting once a week seems a bit daunting, and I’m fairly positive that I don’t know enough people in real life that would be interested in joining. I suppose in my own way, this blog is my version of doing that. Writing in such a public space about the work I’m doing to better myself is my own personal club of improvement, and I’d be thrilled for anyone that wants to join me along the way in their own Passion Pursuit.