George Washington is an interesting character, and I admit to being as fascinated with him as people were in the late eighteenth century. So I was thrilled to get George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior for Christmas this year from my sister. I’d read through the Rules before, but this book also includes certain farewell and inaugural addresses from G. Dubs as well. Also, I learned that these rules were not originally written by him, but copied out as a schoolboy from some popular Jesuit text. Anyway, the rules in their entirety seem difficult to live up to, but most of them really stem from wanting to promote common decency, and putting others before the self. I think the general effect is that you don’t split hairs and worry yourself to death over old-fashioned, out-of-date details, but that the little things you do that drive other people crazy are thrown into sharp relief. I can use all the guides on this I can get. Here are some of my favorites.
- 22: Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.
- 44: When a man does all he can though it succeeds not well blame not him that did it.
- 47: Mock not nor jest at anything of importance, break no jests that are sharp, biting, and if you deliver anything witty and pleasant, abstain from laughing thereat yourself.
- 50: Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any.
- 56: Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad company.
- 58: 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.
- 62: Speak not of doleful things at a time of mirth or at the table; speak not of melancholy things as death and wounds, and if others mention them change if you can the discourse. Tell not your dreams, but to your intimate friend.
- 66: Be not forward but friendly and courteous, the first to salute, hear, and answer. Be not pensive when it’s a time to converse.
- 70: Reprehend not the imperfections of others, for that belongs to parents, masters, and superiors.