Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Washington's Rules of Life

By Drew

Speaking of Washington as we were yesterday, there was this bit from CNN on Washington's "self-help" tips. They come, of course, from Washington's Rules of Civility, a little book that everyone should have, or at least read once in their lifetime. (I'd recommend the version linked to above, with commentary by Richard Brookhiser.)

The list of 110 rules, based on a compilation from French Jesuits, was something that Washington worked on as a young man, and became the foundation on which he based his life. Some people have commented that many of them are simply common sense (don't talk with your mouth full), but common sense is something that seems to be increasingly in short supply nowadays, and at any rate it doesn't hurt to be reminded of it every once in a while.

Anyway, here are some of the rules CNN mentioned, and I think they're worth sharing in an age when civil discourse, whether in politics or the blogosphere, often seems to be lacking. Some of the language may be slightly antiquated, but the wisdom contained is timeless.

  • Let your countenance be pleasant but in serious matters somewhat grave.

  • Shew not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.

  • To one that is your equal, or not much inferior, you are to give the chief place in your lodging, and he who 'tis offered ought at the first to refuse it, but at the second to accept though not without acknowledging his own unworthiness.

  • Mock not nor jest at anything of importance, break no jests that are sharp, biting, and if you deliver any thing witty and pleasant, abstain from laughing thereat yourself.

  • Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for 'tis a sign of tractable and commendable nature, and in all causes of passion permit reason to govern.

  • Speak not of doleful things in a time of mirth or at the table; speak not of melancholy things as death and wounds, and if others mention them, change if you can the discourse. Tell not your dreams, but to your intimate friend.

  • Be apt not to relate news if you know not the truth thereof. In discoursing of things you have heard name not your author. Always a secret discover not.

  • In company of those of higher quality than you, speak not till you are ask'd a question, then stand upright, put off your hat, and answer in few words.

  • Speak not evil of the absent for it is unjust.

  • How many of us can say that we strive to live by even a few of these rules? The best I can say is that I try, but often fall short. You could take many of these into the confessional with you and make a pretty good confession.

    I have a feeling we'll be visiting many of these precepts again in the near future. They are wonderful food for thought - and action.

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