Washington’s Birthday 2013: Civic Lessons in Civility

Although he was born on a Virginia farm 281 years ago, our first president, George Washington, was a stylish man of courtly manners.  He learned these manners as a boy and made them the foundation for his lifetime conduct, his presidency, and his country.  Speculation is that he learned the rules from a book his father or elder brother brought from England.

Some of the rules are, well, surprising, others familiar and obvious, others humorous, and still others inspirational.  In today’s increasingly immoral society, we and our children could do worse than to read and follow George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior. 

  1.  Every action done in company ought to be done with some sign of respect to those that are present.
  2. When in company, put not your hands to any part of the body not usually discovered.
  3. Show nothing to your friend that might affright him.
  4. In the presence of others, sing not to yourself with a humming noise, nor drum with your fingers or feet.
  5. If you cough, sneeze, sigh, or yawn, do it not loud but privately; and speak not in your yawning but put your handkerchief or your before your face and turn aside.
  6. Sleep not when others speak, sit not when others stand, speak not when you should hold your peace, walk not on when others stop.
  7. Put not off your clothes in the presence of others, nor go out of your chamber half-dressed. 
  8. When you sit down, keep your feet firm and even, without putting one on the other or crossing them.
  9. Shake not the head, feet, or legs, roll not the eyes, lift not one eyebrow higher than the other, wry not the mouth, and bedew no man’s face with your spittle by approaching too near him when you speak. 
  10. Kill not vermin, as fleas, lice, ticks, and company in the sight of others.  If you see any filth or thick spittle put your foot dexterously upon it, if it be upon the clothes of your companions, put it off privately, and if it be upon your own clothes return thanks to him who puts it off.   
  11. Be no flatterer, neither play with any that delights not to be played withal. 
  12. Read no letters, books, or papers in company, but when there is a necessity of doing it you must ask leave.  Come not near the books or writings of another so as to read them unless desired, or give your opinion of them unasked.  Also look not nigh when another is writing a letter. 
  13. Let your countenance be pleasant but in serious matters somewhat grave. 
  14. Reproach none for the infirmities of nature, nor delight to put them that have in mind thereof. 
  15. Show not your glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy. 
  16. When you see a crime punished you may be inwardly pleased, but always show pity to the suffering offender. 
  17. Do not laugh too loud or too much at any public spectacle. 
  18. In visiting the sick, do not presently play the physician if you be in not knowing therein. 
  19. Strive not with your superiors in argument, but always submit your judgment to others with modesty. 
  20. Take all admonitions thankfully in what time or place soever given, but afterwards not being culpable take a time and place convenient to let him know it that gave them. 
  21. Wherein your reprove another be unblameable yourself, for example is more prevalent than precepts. 
  22. Use no reproachful language against anyone; neither curse nor revile. 
  23. Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any. 
  24. Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ‘tis better to be alone than in bad company. 
  25. Think before you speak, pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly. 
  26. Be not curious to know the affairs of others, neither approach those that speak in private. 
  27. Undertake not what you cannot perform but be careful to keep your promise. 
  28. Speak not evil of the absent for it is unjust. 
  29. When you speak of God or His attributes, let it be seriously and with reverence.  Honor and obey your natural parents although they be poor. 
  30. Let your recreations be manful not sinful. 
  31. Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

Notes: These rules are not in Washington’s order; the word processing system, being even more orderly than Washington himself, would not suffer the rules to be listed out of any proper order but ordered them as they were typed in.






Published in: on February 22, 2013 at 9:13 am  Leave a Comment  

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