What happened with Benjamin Franklin's wooden whistle?
Benjamin Franklin has one of the most diverse and astounding lists of accomplishments of any American that has ever lived. He was a writer, entrepreneur, inventor, speaker, political leader, ambassador, and more. The surprising part is he was very good at all those things. The entrepreneurial side of Benjamin Franklin often receives little attention compared to his accomplishments like the Declaration of Independence. He was very good at making money. Franklin made a fortune not just with his inventions but with many businesses over his long life. He was not always good at handling money though.
Almost every representation we have of Benjamin Franklin is that of an old man. Think of the balding man with his signature bifocals and colonial wear. Even Franklin, was once a little boy. Franklin wrote a letter to a friend about a time he made a poor choice with money at a young age.
Young Ben Franklin and his Shopping Trip
A young 7-year-old Ben had a bit of money in his pocket one day. Little Ben had 16 siblings so spending money was not always something he had. On this particular day, he went out and heard a sweet sound. When he tracked down the source of the sound, he found it was coming from another boy’s wooden whistle. After some questioning, he found the boy had bought the whistle at a local toy shop in town.
Ben went to the store and immediately told the shopkeeper he had to have his own whistle. He also said he was willing to pay all the money in his pocket for the toy. As “coincidence” would have it, the shopkeeper said the money Ben had was the exact price of the whistle.
Now, you can imagine little Ben running home though the streets blowing the whistle and smiling with excitement all the way home. Unfortunately, that smile would not last. His siblings broke the news about the difference in what he had paid compared to the normal price. When Ben learned he had paid 4 times the going rate for the whistle, he was understandably upset.
In his recounting of the story, he was most upset by thinking what else he could have done with the money if he had not spent it all. How many times have you gotten excited, overpaid for something, and later regretted it?
It’s not a problem limited to young people. We do this as adults…often.
“…when I was tempted to buy some unnecessary thing, I said to myself, Don’t give too much for the whistle; and I saved my money.” Ben Franklin
What Lessons did Benjamin Franklin learn from his wooden whistle experience?
Franklin later talks about this childhood experience as a metaphor for how he saw the decisions of others throughout life. How often have you overpaid for something? When I say overpay, I don’t just mean compared to the going rate or what you could buy something for at another store. Did you overpay for something compared to how much joy you thought it would bring you or your family?
Sometimes, it’s ok to buy a whistle, or something that has no other purpose than to bring joy. Just take a moment to pause and think about how much that joy is worth, so you don’t overpay for your whistle.
“In short, I conceive that great part of the miseries of mankind are brought upon them by the false estimates they have made of the value of things, and by their giving too much for their whistles.” Ben Franklin
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