George Washington’s “The Rules of Civility”


As I was moved by the documentary, I started reading a book about George Washington’s spirituality. The book introduced “The Rules of Civility” and I love the rules.

Here I write down some of them to practice myself. Actually, they are very similar to Asian manners but while I live in the United States, I forgot many of them. I want to retrain myself and sharpen my spirit.

In her book, The Spiritual Journey of George Washington, Janice Connell said,

“He knew officers, generals and privates; Frenchmen and Englishmen; Yankees and Southern planters; frontiersmen and Quakers. He dealt with Indians who were enemies and Indians who were allies; with blacks who were slaves, who were freemen, and who were his own soldiers. His ability to deal with all of them was founded on his training in these rules [110 Rules for Young Gentlemen, also known as The Rules of Civility].”


My Quotes from “The Rules of Civility”


• Let all actions performed in public show some sign of respectful sentiment to the entire company.

• It is an affront and an impertinence to doze while everyone is engaged in conversation, to be seated while the rest stand, or to walk on while others pause, or to speak when you should be silent or listen.

• When seated, place your feet firmly on the ground, with the legs at an equal distance, and neither a leg nor a foot should be crossed one upon the other.

• Do not flatter or wheedle anyone with fine words, for he who aspires to gain another’s favor by his honeyed words shows that the speaker does not regard him in high esteem, and that the speaker deems him far from sensible or clever, in taking him for a man who may be tricked in this manner. Do not play practical jokes on those who would take as an offense.

• The face should not look fantastic, changeable, absent, rapt in attention, covered with sadness, various or volatile; and it should not show any signs of an unquiet mind. On the contrary, it should be open and tranquil, but not too expansive with joy in serious affairs, nor too self-contained by an affected gravity in the ordinary and familiar conversation of human life.

• Reproach none for their infirmities. Avoid it equally when they are natural ones, and do not take pleasure in uttering words that cause anyone shame, whoever it may be.

• Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of an other, though he were your enemy. It argues a mischievous mind, that you had a desire to have done it yourself, and if you had the power or opportunity to, you would have.

• If anyone comes to speak to you while you are sitting, stand up although he be your inferior. And when you present seats, let it be to everyone according to his rank.

• When you meet with one of greater quality than yourself, stop and retire, especially if it be at a door or any straight place, to give way for him to pass.

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

• Strive not with your superiors in argument, but always submit your judgment to others with modesty.

• Undertake not to teach your equal in the art that he himself professes. It flavours of arrogancy.

• When a man does all he can, though it succeeds not well, blame not he that did it since he is more worthy of praise than blame.

• To advise or reprehend anyone, consider whether it ought to be public or in private, presently or at some other time, in what terms to do it and, in reproving, show no signs of choler, but do it with all sweetness and mildness.

• Wherein you reprove another, be unblameful yourself. Example is more prevalent than precept.

• Do not be hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any one.

• Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation. For ‘tis better to be alone than in bad company.

• 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.

• Jesting must be avoided when it is inappropriate. Laugh not aloud, nor at all without occasion. Deride no man’s misfortune, although there may seem to be some cause.

• Be not rude, but friendly and courteous. Be the first to salute, to hear, to answer; and be not pensive when it is time to converse.

• Go not thither where you know not whether you shall be welcome or not. Give not advice without being asked and, when desired, do it briefly.

• If two contend together, take not the part of either unless some greater reason obliges you to do so. And be not obstinate in your opinion. In things to which you are indifferent, be a part of the majority.

• Think before you speak. Pronounce not imperfectly nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.

• When another speaks, be attentive yourself and disturb not the audience. If any hesitate in his words, help him not, nor prompt him without it being desired; interrupt him not, nor answer him until his speech be ended.

• In the midst of discourse, ask not what it is about. But if you perceive any stop because of your arrival, rather, request the speaker to continue. If a person of quality comes in while you converse, it is gracious to repeat what was said before.

• While you are talking, point not with your finger at him whom you discourse, nor approach too near to whom you talk, especially to his face.

• Make no comparisons, and if any of the company be commended for any brave act or virtue, commend not another for the same.

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

• Undertake not what you cannot perform. Be careful to keep your promises.

• In the company of those of higher quality than yourself, speak not until you are asked a question. Then stand upright, put off your hat, and answer in a few words.

• Speak not evil of those who are absent, for it is unjust.

• The most distinguished member of the company is first to unfold his napkin and touch the food. The rest should graciously wait without touching the food before he does.

• Be not angry at table, whatsoever happens, and if you have reason to be so, show it not. Put on a cheerful countenance, especially if there be strangers, for good humor makes one dish of meat a feast.