Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior

November 4th was election day all across our great nation. For the past few weeks we have all had to persevere through the various campaign ads formulated to either encourage or discourage us from voting for a particular candidate. It made me hatch a thought about how our founding fathers would have perceived this 21st century campaign marketing ideology. It also made me think about how we all address each other on a daily basis. Then I came across this tidbit of wisdom originally written a few centuries ago. Oh, how times have changed. And as silly as some of these rules sound, I think it much more appropriate behavior then so much of what society exhibits today. Even though one hand is always pulling us forward into the future, one is always pushing us back to the past. We can still learn from our countries history. Civility and good manners are never antiquated and out of style.

Romans 13:7  "Pay to all what is owed to them: taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed."


By age sixteen, Washington had copied out by hand, 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. They are based on a set of rules composed by French Jesuits in 1595. Presumably they were copied out as part of an exercise in penmanship assigned by young Washington's schoolmaster. The first English translation of the French rules appeared in 1640 and are ascribed to Francis Hawkins the twelve-year-old son of a doctor.

Today many, if not all of these rules, sound a little fussy if not downright silly. It would be easy to dismiss them as outdated and appropriate to a time of powdered wigs and quills, but they reflect a focus that is increasingly difficult to find. The rules have in common a focus on other people rather than the narrow focus of our own self-interests that we find so prevalent today. Fussy or not, they represent more than just manners. They are the small sacrifices that we should all be willing to make for the good of all and the sake of living together.

These rules proclaim our respect for others and in turn give us the gift of self-respect and heightened self-esteem.

Richard Brookhiser, in his book on Washington wrote that "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.'"

Excerpt taken from:

Here are but a few "rules" that we should, or at least could, still adhere to today. How different would society be....?

  • Every action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.
  • Let your Countenance be pleasant but in serious Matters Somewhat grave.
  • Show not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another though he were your enemy.
  • Superflous Complements and all Affectation of Ceremony are to be avoided, yet where due they are not to be Neglected.
  • Strive not with your Superiors in argument, but always Submit your Judgement to others with Modesty.
  • Be not hasty to believe flying Reports to the Disparagement of any.
  • Use no Reproachful Language against any one neither Curse nor Revile.

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