George Washington's 110 Rules of Civility

Bill Hancock
Runnels County Register
As a youth, President George Washington wrote the 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. They were based on Jesuit teaching. "Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present." George Washington

RUNNELS COUNTY - Perhaps, given the current state of the nation, the most interesting month-long celebration is August's National Win with Civility. The last 12 months have been filled with the pandemic, maskers, non-maskers, pro-vaccination, anti-vaccination, social unrest, and now, Delta has struck. With that being said, Delta may not be the worst variant of COVID that we face. Beta and Gamma variants are looming over Delta now. Tempers and disagreements have been running hotter than an August day in West Texas. Maybe, a little civility is in order.

National Win with Civility Month is part of the International Civility Month celebration that was started in August of 2010. According to NationalToday.com, "The initiative was founded by the Association of Image Consultants International (AICI). It was inspired by Dr. P.M. Forni, a professor specializing in civility at Johns Hopkins University and author of “Choosing Civility: The 25 Rules of Considerate Conduct.” The idea of raising awareness for civility was put forward in 2008 by AICI’s Yasmin Anderson-Smith, Carole Ann Lyons, and Katherine Wurzburg, along with the marketing committee of AICI."

The website BecauseItMatters.org offers their 10 Keys to Civility; respect others; think positively; pay attention; make a difference; speak kindly; say thank you; accept others; rediscover silence; listen; keep your cool.

It's probably safe to say that those 10 Keys to Civility haven't been used in many disagreements since March of 2020. Lines have been drawn in the sand by both sides when it comes to social unrest, un-maskers vs maskers, anti-vacc vs vacc, etc. The firestorm that is politics is more divisive than its ever been. Politicians step to the podium and call members of the opposing party names or denigrate them and cast aspersions while they call for unity. Many of the very people who are supposed to be leading by example have obviously not read those 10 Keys to Civility.

Social media is abuzz with heated discussions for both sides of the myriad of issues at play right now. Many of those discussions are nothing more than arguments with each side professing why they're right, and the other side is wrong. Civility is the furthest thing from the majority of those conversations.

The times have certainly changed since Founding Father General George Washington copied and wrote 110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company & Conversation. The rules were based on a 16th-century set of precepts compiled for "young gentlemen" by Jesuit instructors.

Washington, who led a blossoming nation against one of the most powerful military juggernauts that existed in the world at that time, seemingly always had time for civility. Perhaps, that is why Washington was so highly respected by the his foes during and after the Revolutionary War.

Washington was a great military strategist, leading outnumbered farmers, clergy, and store clerks against a British army and navy with some of the best soldiers and sailors in the world. As the United States' first president, he spent 8 years working trade agreements and dealing with the superpower he'd just defeated on the battlefield.

Washington earned respect in the hearts and minds of the former subjects of King George III in America. There is little doubt that his practice of those 110 Rules of Civility played a critical role in his duties as commanding general and, later, governing as President, as well as in diplomacy when dealing with foreign nations.

This might be the best time in our recent history to practice those 10 Rules of Civility, if not the full 110 rules that Washington lived and guided his country by. There is no doubt that kindness, civility, and respect go much further than anger, resentment, and indignation do. As tempers and temperatures rise in August, it could be the perfect time to celebrate civility, practicing the virtues of civility regardless of winning or losing.

Washington felt that there was a title greater than that of "general" or "President": “I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.”

It's been almost 222 years since Washington's death. Yet, his words are ageless, bound not by a calendar, but by his character, “Speak not injurious words neither in jest nor earnest; scoff at none although they give occasion.”

There are still two weeks left in Win by Civility month. The following quote from the Founding Father was to be adhered to, whether in the presence of friend or foe, and seems the most appropriate for the current state of the country, "Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present."