Two long quotations, one from Henri Frederic Amiel in his Journal and the second from Benjamin Franklin’s “Letter To Ezra Stiles, 09 March 1790,” that explore duty and religion. A client recently lamented they had yet to find “the end of the rainbow, much less a pot of gold” and I was reminded of quote by Edwin Land, “the bottom line is in Heaven.” These two quotes reinforce that perspective.
Do Your Duty, Come What May
What is to become of us when everything leaves us—health, joy, affections, the freshness of sensation, memory, capacity for work—when the sun seems to us to have lost its warmth, and life is stripped of all its charm? What is to become of us without hope? Must we either harden or forget? There is but one answer—keep close to duty. Never mind the future, if only you have peace of conscience, if you feel yourself reconciled, and in harmony with the order of things. Be what you ought to be; the rest is God’s affair. It is for him to know what is best, to take care of his own glory, to ensure the happiness of what depends on him, whether by another life or by annihilation. And supposing that there were no good and holy God, nothing but universal being, the law of the all, an ideal without hypostasis or reality, duty would still be the key of the enigma, the pole-star of a wandering humanity.
Do your duty, come what may.
A peaceful conscience and harmony with the order of things are easy to say and hard to achieve, but certainly worth striving for. I look at a successful business as generating value for customers, which requires you to have empathy for their needs and to identify those you can fulfill with distinction and at a profit that pays for innovation and future improvements to meet competitor’s actions.
“You desire to know something of my religion. It is the first time I have been questioned upon it. But I cannot take your curiosity amiss, and shall endeavor in a few words to gratify it. Here is my creed. I believe in one God, the creator of the universe. That he governs by his providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion, and I regard them as you do in whatever sect I meet with them.
As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think his system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, the best the world ever saw or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his divinity; though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble. I see no harm, however, in its being believed, if that belief has the good consequences, as probably it has, of making his doctrines more respected and more observed; especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the unbelievers in his government of the world with any peculiar marks of his displeasure.”
Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790)
Letter To Ezra Stiles, 09 March 1790
in The Works of Benjamin Franklin, 1904 (Chapter 12) John Bigelow editor
In the middle of a thunderstorm or an earthquake or lying sick in bed with a serious illness it can be hard to believe in a providential universe. Certainly at low points on the entrepreneurial roller coaster you can lose your sense of purpose and of a place in the universe. I like this answer by Franklin where “doing good” to others is his focus over needless study of issues he expects “soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble.” He wrote it March 9, 1790 and was dead five weeks later in April of the same year.
Like many activities we engage in, business is an opportunity to do good for others. Not a hugely popular sentiment in Silicon Valley but true nonetheless.