24 September 2008

Washington's Rules of Civility

Recently I read through George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation. The book is quite small and contains a list of 110 rules. Most are common table manners (don't clean your teeth at the table, for instance) and many are holdovers from a now-dead era and deal with how to treat one's social inferiors and betters. I don't consider the people in the Social Register to be my betters by any stretch of the imagination -- and I don't see myself as better than people living under bridges and overpasses. I enjoyed reading some of the rules, though, and I wrote them down.
  • Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another, though he were your enemy.
  • When you see a crime punished, you may outwardly pleased, but always show pity toward the suffering offender.
  • Be no flatterer; neither play with any that delights not to be played with.
  • 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.
  • Speak not injurious words, neither in jest or in earnest scoff at none though they give occasion.
  • Speak not evil of the absent, for it is unjust.
  • Labour to keep alive in your breast that little celestial fire called conscience.

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