Benjamin Franklin recognized the value of conversation and the importance of cognitive diversity in convening innovative conversations when he founded the Junto Club almost 300 years ago.
In 1727, at the age of 21, Benjamin Franklin, who went on to become was one of the founding fathers of the United States founded the Junto Club.
The club, initially composed of twelve members who met on Friday evenings, first in a tavern and later in a house, to discuss issues of morals, politics or natural philosophy to improve themselves and their community.
It was a diverse group that included printers, surveyors, a cabinetmaker, a clerk, and a bartender.
The club led to innovations such as volunteer fire-fighting organizations, improved security through night watchmen, a public hospital and the first public library.
Our debates were to be conducted in the sincere spirit of inquiry after truth, without fondness for dispute or desire of victory.
Franklin put together a provocative set of questions to stimulate the conversations during the club’s meetings. The questions are listed below:
- Have you met with anything in the author you last read, remarkable, or suitable to be communicated to the Junto? 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?
- Has any citizen in your knowledge failed in his business lately, and what have you heard of the cause?
- Have you lately heard of any citizen’s thriving well, and by what means?
- Have you lately heard how any present rich man, here or elsewhere, got his estate?
- Do you know of any fellow citizen, who has lately done a worthy action, deserving praise and imitation? or who has committed an error proper for us to be warned against and avoid?
- What unhappy effects of intemperance have you lately observed or heard? of imprudence? of passion? or of any other vice or folly?
- What happy effects of temperance? of prudence? of moderation? or of any other virtue?
- Have you or any of your acquaintance been lately sick or wounded? If so, what remedies were used, and what were their effects?
- Who do you know that are shortly going [on] voyages or journeys, if one should have occasion to send by them?
- Do you think of anything at present, in which the Junto may be serviceable to mankind? to their country, to their friends, or to themselves?
- Hath any deserving stranger arrived in town since last meeting, that you heard of? and what have you heard or observed of his character or merits? and whether think you, it lies in the power of the Junto to oblige him, or encourage him as he deserves?
- Do you know of any deserving young beginner lately set up, whom it lies in the power of the Junto 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? Or do you know of any beneficial law that is wanting?
- Have you lately observed any encroachment on the just liberties of the people?
- Hath anybody attacked your reputation lately? and what can the Junto do towards securing it?
- Is there any man whose friendship you want, and which the Junto, or any of them, can procure for you?
- Have you lately heard any member’s character attacked, and how have you defended it?
- Hath any man injured you, from whom it is in the power of the Junto to procure redress?
- In what manner can the Junto, or any of them, assist you in any of your honourable designs?
- Have you any weighty affair in hand, in which you think the advice of the Junto may be of service?
- What benefits have you lately received from any man not present?
- Is there any difficulty in matters of opinion, of justice, and injustice, which you would gladly have discussed at this time?
- Do you see any thing amiss in the present customs or proceedings of the Junto, which might be amended?
To qualify as a member each person was also asked to stand up, and lay his hand on his breast, and answer the following questions as indicated.
- Have you any particular disrespect to any present members? Answer. I have not.
- Do you sincerely declare that you love mankind in general; of what profession or religion soever? Answer. I do.
- Do you think any person ought to be harmed in his body, name or goods, for mere speculative opinions, or his external way of worship? Answer. No.
- Do you love truth’s sake, and will you endeavour impartially to find and receive it yourself and communicate it to others? Answer. Yes.
Credit: The Papers of Benjamin Franklin
The Library Company of Philadelphia
One of the many innovations to come out of the Junto Club was the creation of the first public lending library in the United States.
In the group’s discussions, they often needed to look up a fact in a book or draw on a book for the topic of their conversation.
Books, however, were prohibitively expensive and difficult to acquire in Pennsylvania in those days and so they agreed to pool the books that they owned and keep them in the room in which they regularly met so they could readily access them during their meetings.
This book collection had the added advantage that they could borrow each other’s books and take them home to read.
It was also the forerunner of the modern-day Book Club where people come together to discuss a book.
This sharing of books was the root of the idea to form a public subscription library, and so in 1731, the Library Company was founded by the Junto Club members.
The Library Company of Philadelphia still exists today, and its collection has grown to about 500,000 books, including over 2,000 items that once belonged to Franklin himself.
Franklin’s Junto Club was about self-development and improving his local community.
What I like about the Junto Club concept is that anyone can start their own modern day Junto.
You can decide on your community and select, twelve or so members from diverse backgrounds.
I think the focus should be on community improvement not on personal development as individual learning comes naturally from taking part in the Junto.
So what community are you part of that you would like to improve? It could be your local community as in the case of Franklin, or any other community you care about and to which you belong.
This includes the organization for which you work. Your organization too is a community.
Or maybe you would like to talk more broadly about society at large.
The other thing to do is to review Franklin’s 24 questions and four assertions and update them so that they are more suited to the present day and your chosen community.
[Status: work in progress. I plan to expand a little and write more about how you might create your own Junto.]
- Article: Junto Club
- Wikipedia: Junto Club
- Article: The Library Company of Philadelphia
- Website: Benjamin Franklin Circles
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