There are many reasons I am drawn to conservativism, but one of the strongest is my respect for the writings of certain forefathers of our nation. Though some grave mistakes were made in the early years of the United States, in nooks and crannies of our founding, beauty and wisdom also abounded.
In our present era, coarse speech and behavior prevail, so the work of several of America’s founders reorients me like a lodestar. When I read them, I am reminded of the importance of dignity, humility, and respect that drove the first patriots to ask if all men were equal under God. Their old, faded words are yet powerful, and they can still pull us back to the principles that first made America great.
This week I have been working back through George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior, and I’d like to share a few that have been meaningful to me with you here. Washington copied these 110 principles at age sixteen, principles which were based on a set of standards developed by French Jesuits in 1595.
Though the language is archaic, and though some of the rules may seem strange to us today, many nuggets of wisdom remain that can help synchronize our hearts to the best aspects of the America of yesteryear.
I hope to share a few posts on this topic with you. Today, I’m including seven of Washington’s rules, along with my own more modern thoughts in italics below.
I love the thought of conservative America taking the lead in reintroducing respect and dignity into our nation’s dialogue. May the spirit of Washington live on, and may that fire ignite in us.
1st: Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.
When you are in the company of other people, be intentionally respectful about every action you take. In every word you write online, in every word you speak face-to-face, in every deed you do, look for ways to honor those who are around you–whether you agree with those people are not.
3rd: Show Nothing to your Friend that may affright him.
Try not to do things that might embarrass others, even if it would make you look intelligent or witty. Don’t make other people the butt of your jokes.
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.
Find ways to honor your fellow citizens. It doesn’t matter what they are trying to say; even if you don’t share their views, show them the respect of being a good listener.
Don’t be lazy and rest when others are making some sort of effort. Do what you can to join them. And remember, sometimes it’s better to just listen instead of pumping out your own opinion at every opportunity.
8th: At Play and at Fire its Good manners to Give Place to the last Commer, and affect not to Speak Louder than Ordinary.
Be aware of those who need someone to welcome them. Make room for people who are new or shy.
Don’t be so forceful or dominant in word or in spirit that others have a hard time contributing their thoughts. Treat others as more important than yourself.
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 unasked also look not nigh when another is writing a Letter.
Put your phone away and focus on others. Engage wholeheartedly. Don’t let your attention be divided.
Be sure to respect the privacy of others. Don’t read things you haven’t been invited to read. Don’t offer your critique on the thoughts of others unless you know you have been invited to do so. Don’t be a snoop or a bully.
22nd: Show not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another though he were your enemy.
Don’t publicly celebrate the humiliation or the pain of your political, religious, or personal enemies. Even if you have hated the ideas, methods, or policies of another human being, show compassion when he or she is hurting.
24th: Do not laugh too loud or too much at any Public Spectacle.
There is a sort of laughter that demeans others. There is also a sort of laughter that mocks hope and spreads cynicism. Be aware of what you are accomplishing with your laughter. Remember that humor is not neutral, so make thoughtful choices about how you use it.