Washington on Civility

It seems like I’ve posted this before but doesn’t look like it’s out there – so here goes again. Next to the Bear Bryant quote on being prepared, it’s probably my favorite motivational thing out there.

There’s some dispute whether George Washington came up with this list on his own, or whether he copied it into his journal from another source.  Either way, these words from 250 years ago are still good guidance for us today.

One Republican presidential candidate may want to look at #59, 61 and 63.

On some of them, I modified/modernized the language a bit.  Sentiments are still the same.

George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Proper Behavior in Company and Conversation

  1. Whatever you do in company, do with respect for those who are present.
  2. When around others, do not touch parts of your body that are not usually shown.
  3. Do not say things to your friends that may shock them.
  4. When with others, do not sing or hum to yourself, or drum with your fingers or feet.
  5. If you must cough, sneeze, sigh or yawn, do it quietly. Do not speak within your yawn.  Put your hand or Kleenex in front of your face and turn away.
  6. Do not sleep when others speak; don’t sit when others stand; don’t speak when you should hold your peace; and don’t walk on when others stop.
  7. Do not dress in front of others and do not come out of your bedroom or bathroom half dressed.
  8. Give up your place to one who arrives after you. Do not speak loud in a group.
  9. When you are sitting, keep your feet flat on the ground and even in front of you.
  10. Do not chew your nails in front of others.
  11. Do not shake your head, roll your eyes or lift your eyebrow to another. Do not speak too closely to another.
  12. Do not kill insects in front of others.
  13. If you see anything foreign on a friend’s clothes, take it off without saying anything. If someone does it for you, thank them.
  14. Do not turn your back to someone when speaking within them.
  15. Do not lean on a table or desk when someone is using it to read or to write.
  16. Keep your nails clean and short and your hands and teeth clean.
  17. With your mouth, do not puff your cheeks, put out your tongue, push out your lips, bite your lips or keep them too open or too closed.
  18. Do not flatter or flirt.
  19. Do not read in front of others unless you must – but then ask for permission. Do not look over someone’s shoulder who is reading or writing.
  20. Let your countenance be pleasant but in serious matters somewhat grave.
  21. Be sure your gestures are appropriate to what is being discussed.
  22. Do not talk about the disabilities of others or make them feel uncomfortable.
  23. Do not be glad at the misfortune of others.
  24. If you see a crime punished, though you might be pleased inside, show pity to the offender.
  25. Do not laugh too loud or too much at any public spectacle.
  26. Avoid superfluous compliments or ceremony, but don’t ignore it when needed.
  27. If anyone comes to speak with you while you are sitting, stand up. If you go to speak to someone else and you are their superior, sit so they don’t feel they have to stand.
  28. Show respect to someone by letting them pass through a door or intersection first.
  29. If you are walking with someone, to show them respect, let them walk on your right hand side – and if there are three of you walking, the honored person should be in the middle.
  30. If someone who is older or more respected than you offers their room or their bed, you should not accept it. If you are the person offering, you should only offer once or twice and not show too much earnestness
  31. You should offer your bed to one who is your equal or your superior. If your equal or subordinate offers you their bed, you should reject it once but then if offered again, accept it.
  32. Those who hold public office or who are wealthy should still treat those older with appropriate respect.
  33. In a conversation, it is polite to let the other speak first.
  34. In speaking with people who are busy, be short and to the point.
  35. When speaking with someone who you believe to be higher than you, do not use false ceremony but show sincere respect. When speaking with someone who considers you superior, do not show any arrogance but rather courtesy.
  36. When visiting those who are ill, do not act like you are a doctor.
  37. When writing or speaking, use a person’s title when appropriate.
  38. Do not always try to argue and win, but submit your ideas to others with modesty.
  39. Don’t try to teach someone in their own field of expertise, it is arrogant to do so.
  40. When speaking with someone, show the appropriate amount of dignity and respect – it makes no sense to treat a clown and a prince the same.
  41. When around someone sick or in pain, you do not need to talk about your great joy – it will only make them feel worse.
  42. Do not blame the person who did all they could to succeed at a task, even if they are not successful.
  43. When correcting or instructing someone, be mild and kind.
  44. When someone corrects or instructs you, accept it thankfully. If you were not the person at fault, you may let the person know at another appropriate time and place.
  45. Do not mock or joke about things that are important and do not use biting humor toward others. If you do say something funny, don’t laugh at your own joke.
  46. Do not correct people in areas where you need correcting yourself. Your actions speak louder than your words.
  47. Do not curse or swear around or about others.
  48. Don’t be quick to believe negative things said about others.
  49. Make sure that your clothes are clean and in good repair.
  50. The purpose of clothes should be to keep warm and not to get admiration for your fashion. Dress similarly to your equals and for the occasion.
  51. Do not run or dance around in the streets.
  52. Don’t be a peacock, looking up and down yourself to see how you look.
  53. Only hang around people of good quality. It is better to be alone than in bad company.
  54. When speaking, do not show malice or envy. Instead of getting upset, always take time to think.
  55. Do not talk about things that are unbecoming or that are secrets.
  56. Be serious around people who are serious. Don’t talk over people’s heads.
  57. Don’t bring up sad or serious things, such as death or health problems when at a happy occasion or when out for dinner. If someone else does, try to change the subject.
  58. Don’t tell a group of people your innermost thoughts, save those for your close friends.
  59. Don’t talk about how successful you are or what you have achieved or how many things you have.
  60. Don’t make or laugh at jokes that are about another’s misfortune.
  61. Don’t say mean things either in truth or in jest, even when people give you a reason to.
  62. Be friendly and courteous, but not too forward. When someone is speaking, answer them.
  63. Don’t try to put the attention on yourself.
  64. Don’t give advice unless someone asks for it, and even then do it briefly.
  65. If two people are arguing, don’t jump in on one side or the other. If something is not a big deal, do not make it a big deal.
  66. Don’t point out imperfections in others, leave that for their parents or their bosses.
  67. Don’t ask where someone got a mark or a blemish. If they are a friend, you should ask them in private.
  68. In a group, you can’t talk the same way as you can with just your friends. Remember who you are with.
  69. Think before your speak and pronounce your words so they can be understood.
  70. If someone else is speaking and falters, don’t try to help, prompt or interrupt them. Don’t speak until they are done speaking.
  71. If you approach people who are in a conversation and they stop talking, you can encourage them to proceed and not stop on your account.  If someone comes in while you are in the middle of a conversation, it is polite to repeat what was said before.
  72. Don’t point at people or get too close to them while in conversation.
  73. Don’t whisper to the person next to you when you are in a group.
  74. If someone is complimented for something, don’t compare it to what another did – or compliment someone else then for the same thing.
  75. Don’t relate news if you don’t know if it is true. If you relate something you’ve heard, do not tell where you heard it.  Do not ask others to disclose secrets.
  76. Don’t tell long stories unless you can tell your group is happy with it.
  77. If people are speaking together in private, do not approach them or try to figure out what they are talking about.
  78. Don’t say you will do things you can’t, keep your promises.
  79. When your superiors are talking, listen don’t speak. Do not speak until you are asked a question, then answer in a few words.
  80. In arguments, worry less about winning arguments and more about letting others deliver their opinions.
  81. Carry yourself so others know that you are calm and listen and don’t argue with everything others say.
  82. Don’t use long sentences or repeat yourself when talking.
  83. Don’t speak negatively about people when they aren’t there to defend themselves.
  84. When eating at the table, don’t scratch, spit, cough or blow your nose.
  85. Don’t show too much delight out loud about your food and don’t be greedy when getting your food.
  86. Don’t lean on the table.
  87. Don’t blow on your soup or your food, let it cool on its own.
  88. Don’t put food in your mouth while holding your knife in your hand.
  89. Keep your fingers and mouth clean when eating, using a napkin.
  90. Don’t put a bite in your mouth until the earlier one is swallowed.
  91. Don’t drink or talk with your mouth full. Don’t look around while you are drinking.
  92. Don’t drink too fast or too slow or making a noise.
  93. Don’t clean your teeth in front of others. If they are doing it, you may do so with a toothpick.
  94. It is for the person chief in company to unfold their napkin first and to eat first, but when beginning they should allow the slowest to catch up to them.
  95. Don’t ever show anger at the dinner table; if you are angry, keep a happy face.
  96. If people are talking at the table, be attentive, but don’t talk with food in your mouth.
  97. When speaking of God, always do so seriously and with reverence.
  98. Honor and obey your parents.
  99. Do things that are good for you and not sinful in nature.
  100. Always keep your conscience.

About Allen Telgenhof

Allen Telgenhof is the Charlevoix County Prosecuting Attorney; he has been an attorney since 1989 and a high school baseball coach since 2005. Graduated from Clio High School, Michigan State University and Thomas M. Cooley Law School. Proud father of Ty, Ally, Will and Lou and husband to Erin.
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