August 23, 2010

Regents Daily News:
August 23, 2010

G. Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior

By the age of sixteen, George 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. You can read them here.

We should teach our boys to follow rules like these so that they will be real men.

We might be tempted to dismiss these rules as fussy or silly, unsuitable for men, outdated tenets more appropriate for a time of powdered wigs.  But in fact George Washington — a man among men to be sure — lived by them through military campaigns and presidential politics. They are guidelines for a mature person who has a clear focus on others rather than self.

The rules detail guidelines for etiquette in a multitude of situations. But in the introduction to Rules of Civility: The 110 Precepts That Guided Our First President in War and Peace, historian Richard Brookhiser warns against dismissing the maxims as “mere” etiquette. “The rules address moral issues, but they address them indirectly,” Brookhiser writes. “They seek to form the inner man (or boy) by shaping the outer.”

That’s the power of manners.

Share This: