My husband and I found a gem of a little book while browsing the gift shop at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. It’s called George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation, (Applewood Books) and in 30 miniature pages it contains a wealth of wisdom. The language may seem quaint but the ideas are timeless. Our first president found the time to record these 110 rules at age 14, not being distracted by maintaining Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Here are a dozen of my favorites—or should I say “favourites”? They emphasize many values that too many of us have lost sight of, especially maintaining our own dignity and respecting the dignity of others. I think we’d all be better off if we could remember more of these. What do you think?
1. “When in company, put not your hands to any part of the body not usually discovered.”
2. “Sleep not when others speak, sit not when others stand, speak not when you should hold your peace, walk not on when others stop.”
3. “Put not off your clothes in the presence of others, nor go out your chamber half-dressed.”
4. “Show nothing to your friend that may affright him.” (I suspect it’s not a coincidence that this rule immediately follows the one above it.)
5. Here one I’m sure we wish our very tedious and tendentious politicians could get right: “Be not tedious in discourse, make not many digressions, nor repeat often the same manner of discourse.”
6. “In visiting the sick, do not presently play the physician if you be not knowing therein.”
7. “Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another, though he were your enemy.”
8. “Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any.”
9. “Think before you speak; pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly & distinctly.”
10. “Be not forward but friendly and courteous; be the first to salute, hear, and answer; & be not pensive when it’s time to converse.”
11. “Give not advice without being asked & when desired do it briefly.”
12. “Labor to keep alive in your breast that little celestial fire called conscience.”