July 30, 2013

George Washington's 110 Rules of Civility

"[A]ll modern manners in the western world in the western world were originally aristocratic.  Courtesy meant behavior appropriate to a court; chivalry comes from chevalier -- a knight.  Yet Washington was to dedicate himself to freeing America from a court's control.  Could manners survive the operation?  Without realizing it, the Jesuits who wrote them, and the young man who copied them [Washington was 16 when he did so], were outlining and absorbing a system of courtesy appropriate to equals and near-equals. When the company for whom the decent behavior was to be performed expanded to the nation, Washington was ready.  Parson Weems got this right, when he wrote that it was 'no wonder every body honoured him who honoured every body.'"

In these modern times where it appears courtesy is dying, I thought it would be interesting to see what some of these "Rules of Civility" entailed:
  1. Every action done in company, ought to be with some sign of respect, to those who are present.
  2. When in company, put not your hands to any part of the body, not usually discovered.  (So no ball-scratching in public.)
  3. Sleep not when others speak, sit not when others stand, speak not when you should hold your peace, walk not when others stop.
  4. Be no flatterer, neither play with any that delights not to be played withal.
  5. Let your countenance be pleasant but in serious matters somewhat grave.
  6. Reproach none for the infirmities of nature, nor delight to put them that have in mind thereof.
  7. Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.
  8. Superfluous compliments and all affectation of ceremony are to be avoided, yet where due they are not to be neglected (aka, no need to be a brown-noser).
  9. Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.
  10. Artificers and persons of low degree ought not to use many ceremonies to Lords, or others of high degree, but respect and highly honor them, and those of high degree ought to treat them with affability and courtesy, without arrogance.
  11. Undertake not to teach your equal in the art himself professes; it savours of arrogance.
  12. Wherein you reprove another be unblameable yourself; for example is more prevalent than precepts.
  13. Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any.
  14.  Play not the peacock, looking everywhere about you, to see if you be well decked, if your shoes fit well if your stockings sit neatly, and cloths handsomely.
  15. Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for 'is better to be alone than in bad company.
  16. Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for 'is a sign of a tractable and commendable nature:    and in all causes of passion admit reason to govern.
  17. When another speaks be attentive yourself and disturb not the audience if any hesitate in his words help him not nor prompt him without desired, interrupt him not, nor answer him till his speech be ended.
  18. Undertake not what you cannot perform but be careful to keep your promise.
  19. Take no salt or cut bread with your knife greasy.
  20. Put not another bit into our mouth till the former be swallowed.  Let not your morsels be too big for the jowls.
These are but a few of the said rules, and I shall leave you with Rule 110:
Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

1776 by David McCullough
Foundations Magazine (for the whole list)

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