How to Be Civil George Washington-Style

Courtesy of Dave on Flickr.

How to Be Civil George Washington-Style

Blog post by Maggie
Thursday, July 6, 2017

Guest blog post by Leah: 

Treat others as you want to be treated. A simple precept we are taught as children that can have a profound effect on our day-to-day interactions, work and personal relationships. Civility allows us to live peacefully together within society.

Around the age of sixteen, George Washington hand-copied 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation into his school exercise book. Based on maxims composed by French Jesuits in the late sixteenth century, these rules were popularly circulated during Washington’s time and became instrumental in shaping the character of the future president. Washington kept these rules close and used them to guide his behavior throughout his military and political career.

While some of these rules seem laughably outdated for modern times, many are as relevant today as they were almost three hundred years ago. Here are a sample of my favorites:

  • #1 Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.
  • #79 Be not apt to relate news if you know not the truth thereof. In discoursing of things you have heard, name not your author. Always a secret discover not.
  • #82 Undertake not what you cannot perform but be careful to keep your promise.
  • #89 Speak not evil of the absent, for it is unjust.

These rules continue to inspire and influence writers today. In Richard Brookhiser’s Rules of Civility: The 110 Precepts That Guided Our First President in War and Peace, the author offers real-world instruction for employing these guidelines of behavior into modern life. The list also features in the plot of Amor Towles’ novel Rules of Civility, which inspired its name.

If you’re interested in reading more on etiquette and civility, the Library has you covered: