George Washington, Barack Obama, and Civility
Between the ages of fourteen and fifteen years George Washington wrote the slim volume entitled Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.
According to the Applewood Books edition, "[t]hese rules were drawn from an English translation of a French book of maxims and were intended to polish manner, keep alive the best affections of the heart, impress the obligation of moral virtues, teach how to treat others in social relations, and above all, inculcate the practice of a perfect self-control."
It would behoove America to remember these rules and use them to lower the rhetoric, eliminate the coarseness of speech, and elevate the argument to a higher moral ground.
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.
Reproach none for the infirmities of nature, nor delight to put them that have in mind thereof.
Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another, though he were your enemy.
When you see a crime punished, you may be inwardly pleased, but always show pity to the suffering offender.
Superfluous compliments and all affectation of ceremony are to be avoided, yet where due, they are not to be neglected.
In writing or speaking, give every person his due title according to his degree and the custom of the place.
Strive not with your superiors in argument, but always submit your judgment to others with modesty.
Undertake not to teach your equal in the art himself professes, it savours of arrogance.
Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be in public or private, presently or at some other time, in what terms to do it; and in reproving show no sign of cholar, but do it with all sweetness and mildness.
Mock not nor jest at any thing of importance; break no jests that are sharp biting; and if you deliver any thing witty and pleasant, abstain from laughing thereat yourself.
Wherein you reprove another be unblameable [sic] yourself, for example is more prevalent than precepts.
Use no reproachful language against any one; neither curse nor revile.
Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any.
Associate yourself with men of good quality, if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.
Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for it is a sign of a tractable and commendable nature; and in all cases of passion admit reason to govern.
Never express anything unbecoming nor act against the rules moral before your inferiors.
Utter not base and frivilous [sic] things amongst grave and learned men; nor very difficult questions or subjects among the ignorant; or with things hard to be believed, stuff not your discourse with sentences, amongst your betters nor equals.
A man ought not to value himself of his achievements or rare qualities of wit, much less of his riches, virtue or kindred.
Break not a jest where none take pleasure in mirth; laugh not aloud, nor at all without occasion; deride no man's misfortune, though there seems to be some cause.
Speak not injurious words, neither in jest or earnest; scoff at none although they give occasion.
Detract not from others; neither be excessive in commanding.
If two contend together, take not the part of either unconstrained; and be not obstinate in your own opinion; in things indifferent be of the major side.
Make no comparisons; and if any of the company be commended for any brave act of virtue, commend not another for the same.
Undertake not what you cannot perform, but be careful to keep your promise.
In disputes, be not so desirous to overcome as not to give liberty to each one to deliver his opinion and submit to the judgment of the major part, especially if they are judges of the dispute.
Be not tedious in discourse, make not many digressions, nor repeat often the same manner of discourse.
When you speak of God or his attributes, let it be seriously & with reverence. Honour & obey your natural parents although they be poor.
Labour to keep alive in your breast that little celestial fire called conscience.
In 2009, Dick Patten, Executive Director of the American Family Business Institute gave an address entitled "George Washington: Man of Character, Man of Faith." Patten writes, [t]he hero, George Washington, was a man of internal substance. He was a man of civility, a man of faith, a man of perseverance, a man of leadership."
Eileen can be reached at email@example.com