The Rules of Civility

rulesCiv_.gifGeorge Washington, the US’ first President, was known for his stellar character. Richard Brookhiser collected the wisdom Washington hand-copied of rules of behavior. Brookhiser adds background on the rules and how they seem to have been handed down from teachings of 16th century Jesuits and notes on situations when Washington followed this precepts and comments his peers made on Washington’s behavior.

I found the book charming and still useful. I learned about the culture of 18th century America and the first President. On top of that, I saw how holding oneself to high standards builds character. Yeah, that sounds hokey, but I think it’s often true.

Some nuggets:

1. Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.

2. When in company, put not your hands to any part of the body not usually discovered.

3. Show nothing to your friend that may affright him.

4. In the presence of others, sing not to yourself with a humming voice, or drum with your fingers or feet.

5. If you cough, sneeze, sigh or yawn, do it not loud but privately, and speak not in your yawning, but put your handkerchief or hand before your face and turn aside.

6. Sleep not when others speak, sit not when others stand, speak not when you should hold your peace, walk not on when others stop.

7. Put not off your clothes in the presence of others, nor go out of your chamber half dressed.

8. At play and attire, it’s good manners to give place to the last comer, and affect not to speak louder than ordinary.

9. Spit not into the fire, nor stoop low before it; neither put your hands into the flames to warm them, nor set your feet upon the fire, especially if there be meat before it.

10. When you sit down, keep your feet firm and even, without putting one on the other or crossing them.

 

Have to Disagree

Yesterday I had lunch with a colleague from China. We didn’t talk about politics much, but we touched upon the possibility of Oprah running for president (which I feel is entirely up to her and I’d decide her ability to run the country during the primaries). My friend mused that he just wished we’d get a president who’d unify the country.

I’ve thought this over and I have to say I disagree. It’s not that I love the tenor of vitriolic discourse, but I don’t mind disparate view points. We want differences. If you’ve read and agree with John Stuart Mills’ essay “On Liberty” you even want bad ideas to be freely expressed. I actually love brisk, lively debate.

What I’d like to see is more civility. I don’t care about a society having huge differences or a culture war. I just think such disagreements should be conducted with civility. So I don’t think we’re missing unity. I think we need more respect, more listening and more rationality.

Civility at Work

I admire how this young Hong Kong protestor calls attention to the two men who are apparently spies and have been following him. He does it with respect and civility showing how the Chinese government operates and the risk those who want democracy face in the “One Country/Two Systems” era.

I pray nothing bad happens to this man.