Founding Fathers Blog

George Washington: A Lesson He Learned…and We Should, Too!

September 2nd, 2011

I was in the food line at a cafeteria the other day when I was disturbed by a raucous, bellicose, guffaw. For those of you who are not close to your dictionary, that means there was an outbreak of loud laughter. I immediately said to myself what kind of a buffoon would resort to such a boorish, rude behavior? It reminded me of that particular rule George Washington had learned as a youth when his tutor was stressing penmanship, and allowing George to learn certain rules of social conduct as he practiced his writing skills. The one I recalled said something like: “laugh not too loud or long in company (or public, or something like that).”

In George’s own handwriting were found transcriptions of what were termed “The 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” These rules made a lasting impression on the comportment of the Father of Our Country, George Washington. Historians agree that the early repetition of these rules helped develop the character of George Washington.

Perhaps these (or similar) rules should once more be promulgated in the schools. It seems that instead of becoming more civil and polite our society has become more coarse and less refined. I can recall the time in 8th grade when we students were proud to be seated for a week or two at the “manners table” to learn proper etiquette.

Conversation and actions in public have slowly become less tolerable of those who do not stoop to the lowest common denominater of public discourse. It has become a matter of consternation for the polite bearing of the maturing generation. As I looked up that particular rule, I found I had misquoted it. The rule stated: “Do not laugh too loud or too much at any Publick Spectacle.” (Spelling and capitalization as George had used.)

Then I took note of some of the additional maxims. For example: “Every action done in company, ought to be with Some sign of respect, to those who are present.”

And “Undertake not what you cannot Perform but be Careful to keep your Promise.”

And how about: “Use no reproachful language against anyone neither curse nor revile.”

And for foreign visitors: “Speak not in an unknown Tongue in company . . . . Subline matters treat seriously.”

I do hope we never need to admonish: “Being set at meat Scratch not neither Spit Cough or blow your nose except there’s a necissity for it.” Although I was recently at a table with someone who would have been well advised to remember that rule of conduct.

Perhaps we should all take a closer look at our own behavior in company with others. It may be proper for us to become more polite and considerate of others. We would do well to take this lesson for conduct from our Founding Father: George Washington.

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