I just finished a really good book, The Rules of Civility. It is a first novel by Amor Towles and was published in 2011. The plot follows a young girl named Katey Content (accent on the second syllable) who lived in New York City in 1938 and it chronicles how chance meetings can change your life forever. The novel also points out that the rules for polite society are important and that George Washington, before the age of sixteen, transcribed “Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation” as a school exercise. The rules were used throughout the 18th century to prescribe manners and behavior. Washington is said to have adhered to them throughout his life.
At the end of the novel, Amor Towles reprinted the Rules of Civility which George Washington had transcribed. I want to share them with you mainly for two reasons.
First, I believe that we would all do better if we had a civil compass that directed us in our everyday lives. For example, the shorthand that has developed as a result of texting (LOL, OMG) are not for me. I believe that we should use language for the purpose that it was intended….to communicate and at the best of times to elevate thought to a higher level and purpose. That is why Thoreau wrote Walden and why we should all revisit the classics of literature on a regular basis.
Second, I am certain that a knowledge of manners and the everyday use of them is a very good thing. Show respect to a senior, be polite on the telephone, send a thank you note to someone who does you a favor or sends you a present. Plain and simple, people with manners are people who you want to know. Children with manners are children who are welcome in your home and they have a head start on success in life.
You have probably seen books that produce a list of ideas produced by children…like “never run with scissors,” or “share your toys.” Of course those statements could be extrapolated to mean we should stay away from doing things in our lives that are dangerous or we should share our ideas, belongings, talents with others. When I read the Rules of Civility as transcribed by George Washington, I was struck by how similar his 110 items are to such 20th and 21st century books.
I am certain that your interest would wane if I were to list all 110 rules here. If you want to see them, you can look them all up on the internet. For the time being, here are twenty of the rules which I think would make the world a much better place. They are numbered the same as they are in the original list and the spelling and capitalization is true to the original.
1st Every Action done in Company ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.
6th Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not when you Should hold your Peace, walk not on when others Stop.
7th Put not off your Cloths in the presence of Others, nor go out your Chamber half Drest.
11th Shift not yourself in the Sight of others nor Gnaw your nails.
18th Read no Letters, Books, or Papers in Company but when there is a Necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave: come not near the Books or Writings of Another so as to read them unless desired or give your opinion of them unask’d also look not nigh when another is writing a Letter.
22nd Shew not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another though he were your enemy.
41st Undertake not to Teach your equal in the art himself Professes; it Savours of arrogancy.
42nd Let thy ceremonies in Courtesy be proper to the Dignity of his place with whom thou conversest for it is absurd to act the same with a Clown and a Prince.
44th When a man does all he can though it Succeeds not well, blame not him that did it.
63rd A Man ought not to value himself of his Atchievements, or rare Qualities of wit; much less of his riches Virtue or Kindred.
65th Speak not injurious Words neither in Jest nor Earnest Scoff at none although they give Occasion.
73rd Think before you Speak pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your Words too hastily but orderly and distinctly.
77th Treat with men at fit Times about Business and Whisper not in the Company of Others.
81st Be not Curious to Know the Affairs of Others neither approach those that Speak in Private.
89th Speak not Evil of the absent for it is unjust.
90th Being Set at meat Scratch not neither Spit Cough or blow your Nose except there’s a Necessity for it.
94th If you Soak bread in the Sauce let it be no more than what you put in your Mouth at a time and blow not your broth at Table but Stay till Cools of it Self.
107th If others talk at Table be attentive but talk not with Meat in your Mouth.
108th When you Speak of God or his Atributes, let it be Seriously and wt. Reverence. Honour and Obey your Natural Parents altho they be Poor.
110th Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience
I did not see any allusion to the home in the 110 rules. So, in keeping with Washington’s transcriptions of the rules, I will share with what we will call my Rules of Civility for the Home.
1st Take time to set the table and have a dinner with your family.
2nd Music is good for what ails you.
3rd A room has a soul if it has books.
via Richard Keith Langham
4th Fresh flowers always brighten a room.
5th When the going gets tough, the tough should get chocolate!
Hope you have a great day. Create and be happy and don’t forget to be civil.