What the past can tell the future…

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The other day I was talking to our son. I cannot remember the specific topic but it brought to mind a slim volume that I purchased years ago, “Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior”. In it, are 110 rules for civility and decent behavior in company and conversation. George Washington wrote down these rules when he was 14, drawing upon a French book of maxims that were intended to “polish manners, keep alive the best affections of the heart, impress the obligation of moral virtues, teach how to treat others in social relations, and above all, inculcate the practice of a perfect self-control”. Of course there were rules that seem applicable to that period of time. Some rules are still said today but use different verbiage. And other rules are timeless. If only certain Presidents referred to this book, I wonder how our foreign and domestic relationships would be?

Some of the rules are priceless:

#2: When in company, put not your hands to any part of the body, not usually discovered.

#13: Kill no vermin as fleas, lice, ticks &c in the sight of others; if you see any filth or thick spittle, put your foot dexteriously upon it; if it be upon the clothes of your companions, put it off privately; and if it be upon your own clothes, return thanks to him who puts it off.

Interestingly, the 45th maxim:

#45: Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be in public or private, presently or at some other time, in what terms to do it; and in reproving show no sign of cholar, but do it with all sweetness and mildness.

Other great advice:

#48 Wherein you reprove another, be unblameable yourself, for example is more prevalent than precepts.

#38: In visiting the sick, do not presently play the physician if you be not knowing therein.

Just last week I heard a story on NPR about a new book Love Your Enemies by Arthur C. Brooks. He talks about disagreement, civility, and getting along. He has some passionate and interesting theories on what the country’s discourse should be but I did agree with his interview’s final statement:

“Disagreement in a democracy is the source of our strength. If it's performed with respect and warmheartedness — even with love — that's how we avoid stagnation and mediocrity. I'm all about disagreement, but it has to be done in the climate of respect, warm heartedness and love.”

Also last week there was a protest by both sides of the aisle: March for Life, ACLU, conservative and liberal organizations. They were united against the National Park Service proposal to charge a fee for protest costs. (extra security, barriers, etc.) In a rare instance eight seemingly polarized organizations banned together and submitted a letter to the NPS explaining their position:

“Our organizations do not agree on all issues, but one principle we unreservedly support is our right to gather together to express ourselves,” the letter said. “The quintessential locations for these expressive gatherings in the United States are the National Mall and the public spaces surrounding the White House. . . . We are very concerned that, should these rules go into effect, they will chill speech and harm our national discourse.”

How refreshing to know that we CAN agree on something. Perhaps that what unites us is stronger and bigger than what divides us. What unites these groups is the recognition of all rights to protest- not those who can afford it.

What once again strikes me about “civility and decent behavior”- it is all about putting the other person first.

“Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Easier said then done but necessary for all our sakes.

What about you? Have you read or heard any thought-provoking words lately? Were they new ideas or a rehash of one’s that have been around? Why is it that we need to “repackage” in a fresh way, ideas and thoughts that are not new? What other ideas unite seemingly polarized groups?

This week, be aware of the stories and news you hear. Are there common denominators in seemingly opposite views?

How can we demonstrate civility and decent behavior in company and conversation?