I was delighted to discover the Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation that were “copied down” by George Washington as he worked as a young boy to improve his penmanship.
The list of rules is long, 110 of them in all (lots of penmanship copying practice). However, much of their content is incredibly apt today, nearly 300 years later.
The rules encourage us to think more about other people and less about ourselves—more “we” and less “me.”
Research says that George’s list was inspired by rules put together by French Jesuits in 1595. Many of the rules address civility and decent behavior and…
…reflect a focus that is increasingly difficult to find. The rules have in common a focus on other people rather than the narrow focus of our own self-interests that we find so prevalent today. Fussy or not, they represent more than just manners.
They are the small sacrifices that we should all be willing to make for the good of all and the sake of living together. These rules proclaim our respect for others and in turn give us the gift of self-respect and heightened self-esteem.
As an advocate for kindness and civility in the workplace (and everywhere), I was both inspired (good reminders that are timeless) and dismayed (will things ever change???) by George’s list.
Take a look:
George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior
- Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.
- Strive not with your superior in argument; always submit your argument with modesty.
- Mock not nor jest anything of importance; and if you deliver anything witty and pleasantly, abstain from laughing at yourself.
- Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any.
- Think before you speak, pronounce not imperfectly, nor bring your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.
- When another speaks, be attentive yourself and disturb not the audience. If any hesitate in his words, help him not nor prompt him; interrupt him not, nor answer him till his speech has ended.
- Always submit your judgment to others with modesty.
- Whisper not in the company of others.
- Undertake not what you cannot perform and be careful to keep your promise.
- Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.
- In disputes, be not so desirous to overcome as not to give liberty to each one to deliver his opinion.
- Give not advice without being asked and when desired do it briefly.
- Speak not injurious words neither in jest nor earnest scoff at none although they give occasion.
You can find the whole list here.
Image source before quote: morgueFile.com