11 March 2014

President's Manners

Image found here
George Washington transcribed 110 rules of etiquette when he was just a boy, and he lived by them throughout his life. In some of them the class system is quite evident; other points are intricately for that era of ceremony in which they were written; yet others are "no duhs," even 250 years later. But some, I think, apply still — perhaps even more now than ever.

Some of these age-old rules of conduct have been stifled in the clamor for personal recognition — a generation obsessed with "Me."

But I believe they were written because, truly, our opinion of ourselves, as well as the opinions of others about us, are at their highest when we seek the "Other" in interpersonal/online interaction, rather than the "Me." Concern with others instead of oneself is the more fulfilling of the two pursuits — ironic as that may seem— and causes more esteem and trust than singing one's own praises ever will.

Now of course if one stifles oneself to the point of silence those interactions will be very one-sided. We each have something of value to share. But I think we as a society have forgotten, or ceased to be taught, the value behind some of the suggestions Washington makes — too often our eagerness to share our Selves stifles that same opportunity for the Other. As I reread these, some specific ones stood out at me, because they highlight lackings I have seen in society as well as, acutely, in myself. The first one makes the application of the others natural.

Selections from George Washington's Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior

1st Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present. 
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. 
18th Read no Letters, Books, or Papers [or texts, emails, Facebook messages, perhaps?] in Company but when there is a Necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave... 
40th Strive not with your Superiers in argument, but always Submit your Judgment to others with Modesty. 
41st Undertake not to Teach your equal in the art himself Proffesses; it Savours of arrogance. 
44th When a man does all he can though it Succeeds not well blame not him that did it. 
45th Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be in publick or in Private; presently, or at Some other time in what terms to do it & in reproving Shew no Sign of Cholar but do it with all Sweetness and Mildness. 
47th Mock not nor Jest at any thing of Importance, break no Jest that are Sharp Biting, and if you Deliver any thing witty and Pleasent abstain from Laughing there at yourself. 
48th Wherein you reprove Another be unblameable yourself; for example is more prevalent than Precepts. 
56th Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for 'tis better to be alone than in bad Company. 
58th Let your Conversation be without Malice or Envy, for 'tis a Sign of a Tractable and Commendable Nature: And in all Causes of Passion admit Reason to Govern. 
59th Never express anything unbecoming, nor Act agst the Rules Moral before your inferiors [or rather, anyone who may be watching]. 
63d A Man ought not to value himself of his Achievements, or rare Qualities of wit; much less of his riches, Virtue, or Kindred. 
66th Be not forward but friendly and Courteous; the first to Salute, hear and answer, & be not Pensive when it's a time to Converse. 
67th Detract not from others, neither be excessive in Commending. 
74th When Another Speaks be attentive your Self and disturb not the Audience... 
108th When you Speak of God or his Attributes, let it be Seriously & wt. Reverence. Honour & Obey your Natural Parents altho they be Poor. 
110th Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience.
Perhaps they seem stuffy, judgmental, normative, too idealistic, or just plain old-fashioned. But the concept behind them is sound. The human need for understanding and acceptance has not changed, regardless of how much the world around the humans has. In a world full of impersonal, uncaring plastic, screens and masses, it's that drive that has led to the "Me" generation problem—everyone crying for notice, recognition and self-validation, often at the expense of everyone else.

But are we trying to fulfill that need the right way? Let's test it—let's see if, in seeking the Other we don't feel better about the Self.

It takes work; others may not catch on quickly, and we may feel trampled on at times. But it's arms and hearts extended outward (rather than folded tight against the Self) that are more likely to be filled.

Genuine concern for others is perhaps the greatest way to make friends and influence people for good. Really, the people I admire the most are those who show concern for Others, including me, without asking the same for themSelves. And I've heard it's a load off one's mind not to be worried about the Self. Is it worth a try to see if Washington was right?

It's something I want to find out for myself.

Find Washington's full list here.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Share your musings!