Washington's "Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation"

In keeping with my New Year’s resolution to “be the better man”, I have been studying traditional rules of civil behavior. Google led me to an interesting list of rules written (or at least transcribed) by George Washington back when he was a 16 year old student. These rules are originally attributed to French Jesuits back in 1595. While the rules initially appear very antiquated and overly genteel, they express a theme lost in today’s self-centered world – a sense of empathy and courtesy to our fellow man.

To quote Richard Brookhiser from his book, “Rules of Civility: The 110 Precepts That Guided Our First President in War and Peace”:

“All modern manners 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, 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.'”

Some selected rules:

1st – Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.

8th – At Play and at Fire its Good manners to Give Place to the last Commer, and affect not to Speak Louder than Ordinary.

19th – Let your Countenance be pleasant but in Serious Matters Somewhat grave.

22d – Shew not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another though he were your enemy.

41st – Undertake not to Teach your equal in the art himself Proffesses; it Savours of arrogancy.

49th – Use no Reproachfull Language against any one neither Curse nor Revile.

58th – Let your Conversation be without Malice or Envy, for ’tis a Sign of a Tractable and Commendable Nature: And in all Causes of Passion admit Reason to Govern.

63d – A Man ought not to value himself of his Atchievements, or rare Qualities of wit; much less of his riches Virtue or Kindred.

74th – When Another Speaks be attentive your Self 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.

89th – Speak not Evil of the absent for it is unjust.

About Kevin

Kevin Jarnot is a technologist who lives just South of Boston, MA. He is currently employed as Chief Technology Officer at DebtX, a financial services technology company based in Boston.
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