What the past can tell the future…

IMG_0825 2.jpg

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?

Tale of Two Candidates

In this past Sunday's New York Times there were two different articles, in two different sections talking about two different political candidates. Even though the point behind each article was different I was struck with an underlying commonality- civility and manners.

In the case of one of the candidates it appears that civility and manners are severely lacking. He says what he wants to say to whomever he feels is listening with no thought that his words might be hurtful, divisive and derisive.  There appears to be a growing segment of the population that thrives on this type of behavior.  It is if they have been waiting for someone to say without filters all the things that have been bothering them for years.  It is if they subscribed to the opposite wisdom of Thumper in Bambi,  "If you have something nasty to say, then say it." 

The other candidate, according to this article, is one who was raised on civility.  He was taught to be a gracious winner and loser, to be careful in his speech and to demonstrate some self-restraint in dealing with other people with whom he differs.  And, according to this article,  it is a dying virtue.   It is a point of view that is not seen as important to the voting public, rather it is seen as a source of weakness.

I am not particularly enamored with either candidate and am certainly not endorsing one candidate or the other but it did cause me pause.  Why are we so quick to think a braggart, shoot from the hips and no holds barred type of speaker is possessing a strength and virtue?  Why do we consider manners to be weak and passe?  And in thinking so, we need to rid this behavior from  society?

I wonder if it is our faceless society and nameless way of communicating  that has conditioned us to think that just because we don't see someone's face it is okay then to call them out, say negative comments and even say things that verge on the edge of hatred.  Certainly in this day and age if one is in the public light then one is fair game for receiving all sorts of vitriol.  If we have to look someone in the eye would we say that which what we do in the safety of anonymity? 

The thing is, the say-whatever mentality immediately breaks down any future communication and so each camp ends up inciting each other with the same rhetoric. It just encourages more bad behavior. "If you say those types of things about me, I will just retaliate in kind."  Eventually no one listens. Both parties end up extremely frustrated and so, when someone who is louder than everyone else speaks, it is seen as good because the words are expressed.  Yet those unfiltered words break down the communication and so the cycle continues and nothing is accomplished.  

It takes much more thought and effort to be civil and mannerly.  It is a strong person who can suppress his/her urge to "shut the other person down" in order to maintain an open dialogue.  It is a strong person who lays aside his/her desire to "stick it to the opponent" for the sake of living in human community.  It is the strong person who looks at the long term picture of working together rather than "winning" every little battle. 

I wonder about my own relationships and how I communicate?   Regrettably I can recall times when I spewed venomous pronouncements about someone not in my presence. Thankfully it was only in the presence of kin yet still the words were spoken, the poison was out in the air and with it, the potential to corrode the thinking of all who hear.  

I also know that it is hard to look someone in the eye and say words that the recipient might not want to hear.  Yet it is because I am looking into his/her eyes I am compelled to temper my tone and words.  I need to think before I speak, to reflect on the implications of what I say and how it will be received and to temper my words accordingly. Not a bad thing and much needed in this world.  

What about you?  Have you noticed the change in the speech of one to another?  Not only with our political candidates but in the day to day communications or in the internet communications?  How do you respond? 

Charles Dickens opens his novel, The Tale of Two Cities, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."  It seems like lately, especially during this political campaigning season, we are experiencing the best and worst of human behavior.  

I am choosing to focus on the best-  to try and to be kind, gracious, understanding, slow to speech, slow to anger, empathetic and loving in my dealings with one other- those seen and unseen.  Won't you join me?