I recently heard a story of Benjamin Franklin. This is the best way that I know of to explain Rewards of Honor.

“It is far better to light the candle than to curse the darkness.” – Proverb

Franklin was disturbed the amount of crime at night in the city of brotherly love — colonial Philadelphia. Being a newspaper man, he had to report on every incident. Instead of kindness, the streets at night were unsafe; full of robbery and even murder. People did not want to go outside.

His ever-active inventor’s mind went to work and discovered an answer; to light the streets at night, and later, to deploy watchmen to keep the peace. While he did not invent the street light, he greatly improved on the design, making the light shine brightly all through the night while making them more vandal-proof.

As the story goes, he first he approached the civic leaders to lobby for change through legislation. This proposal was rejected; it was not something that their public demanded. With no pressure from above, and no uproar from below, it simply did not seem the best way to serve their interests.

His efforts frustrated, Franklin then approached the public to rally the merchants to the need. This seemed logical, as they had the resources to build and install the lights, and safe streets were most certainly in their interests.

What he found was that everyone thought it wasn’t their responsibility. It’s not that anyone was opposed to lighted streets, it just seemed that Franklin was the only one that saw the need as his responsibility. Instead of stopping him, this fueled his resolve. He decided to do what he could do, even if it seemed small. He constructed his new lamp, and installed it on the street in front of his own shop.

What resulted was extraordinary. Soon evening travelers began gathering around the small drop of light in the darkness that was Franklin’s shop. Neighboring shopkeepers could not but notice how people hurried past their open establishments to congregate around Franklin’s. Not only did his evening traffic and income increase, his traffic during the day began to increase as well.

Some merchants asked Franklin about his lamp, and he gladly assisted them in shining their own light. Only a small handful of shopkeepers recognized the opportunity and were willing. As they began to light their small part of the city, these first shopkeepers soon began to notice the same unexpected result that Franklin had. Their business — even during the day — began to boom.

Perhaps the gratitude and goodwill from having a safe place at night turned into deep loyalty, or maybe people simply changed their habits of patronage. It didn’t matter. The message was clear. Doing good for the community gains the heart and the business of the community.

Soon, the other merchants began to see what was happening for the businesses that had installed street lamps, while the public walked right past their shops. Very quickly, every single merchant in Philadelphia began clamoring for their lamps as well. The response was so universal that the civic leaders had no choice but to finally jump on board. Franklin’s legislation passed, and the city took on the management of all the street lights.

Philadelphia was safer at night. The result was community good-will, civic pride, and, surprisingly for some, greater prosperity for all.

What Rewards of Honor is doing in our communities for teachers is no different from what Ben Franklin did to stop crime in colonial Pennsylvania. When our schools are whole, prosperity will happen.

We are not waiting, and the smart ones will join us.