“When in the company of others refrain from reading letters, books, or papers.” This is just one of 110 rules of etiquette that were followed by George Washington. While this rule may seem extreme, how many times have you been around a table with friends or family and everyone is looking at their phones instead of interacting with each other? If reading in public was considered rude, I wonder what George would have thought of our habits of texting, scrolling social media, and browsing the internet at every chance we get.
“The Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior” are best known as the rules on which George Washington based his life and work. The Rules cover everything from not talking with your mouth full to showing respect to those around you.
Some things never become outdated and the Rules are a perfect example. They still serve a great reminder that we all have a duty to be civil and decent to one another. If we all adopted these guidelines as a uniform set of rules, it would undoubtedly be a step in the right direction. Here are some of the rules that stick out as particularly relevant and timeless:
- Every action done in company ought to be done with some sign of respect, to those that are present. This is the first Rule and an important reminder that our words and actions should show regard for everyone in our company. When everyone is working so hard to get ahead or to be heard, it is easy to act without considering others.
- Do not argue.., rather present your opinion modestly. It seems that arguing has become commonplace and modesty has become obsolete. It’s hard to “present your opinion modestly” when you disagree intensely, but even a little modesty can go a long way.
- Do not recriminate an unsuccessful man when he did all he could. If a person has failed, it is likely that he already feels bad enough. Further criticism serves no purpose. Basically, don’t kick someone while they are down.
- Be slow at believing anything that disparages another. We are all so quick to believe negative words. Until you know otherwise, try treating accusations as false. In other words, assume the best, rather than the worst.
- Think before you speak. This is self-explanatory, but so often overlooked. Think, then speak. It’s as simple as that.
- Do not speak ill of anyone who is absent. It can be easy to talk about the bad habits or misfortune of others. If you talk about people behind their back, you can be sure people are talking about you. Just as the saying goes, “if you wouldn’t say it to their face, don’t say it at all.”
- Work hard to keep alive…that little spark of heavenly grace called conscience. Don’t ignore your conscience. So much of what we read and watch on TV seems to numb the conscience. Stay true to what you know is right.
Those are just some of the little nuggets of wisdom adopted by our first president. We can pretty much sum it up to this: Respect others, be modest, don’t listen to or spread gossip, and pay attention to your conscience.
The full list of Rules can be found at http://www.knowledgehouse.info/GeorgeWashingtonRulesofCivility.pdf.
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