Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior | Live Like Washington
Human beings admire those with dignity and grace. No matter how far the public taste strays into an ocean of trash, social graces are a braided rope thrown from the shores of home.
Do as George did
In saying this, I don’t mean that we should all go to finishing school to prepare for our high society coming-out parties before Lindsay Lohan pulls us beneath the waves like the Creature from the Black Lagoon. No, I’m talking about how we conduct ourselves. If we want to be treated with respect, it wouldn’t hurt to do as George Washington did. He studied “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” He transcribed these 110 rules to live by when he was a boy.
He was the Father of Our Country
David Brooks writes in the New York Times op-ed piece “In Search of Dignity” that Washington’s rules of civility were difficult to follow, but he worked hard to cultivate them throughout his life. Historian Gordon Wood recognizes the efforts of America’s first president when he writes that “Washington became a great man and was acclaimed as a classical hero because of the way he conducted himself during times of temptation. It was his moral character that set him off from other men.”
About human beings
This code Washington strove to follow was based on the same underlying idea that informs the United States Constitution: that human beings are flawed and must work to govern their passions. The belief is that artificial systems of government must be in place to help regulate unchecked desires or chaos will reign. Do not give in to personal interests over those of the greater good, do not carry on in public and treat rashness with healthy skepticism. Rely on yourself first. Be polite to others. It’s all part of the code.
America lacks manners[ad_block type=”horizontal” float=”left”]
So what’s the point that Brooks is trying to make here, aside from the fact that too many people like to play with Lindsay in the muck? The “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation” and any dignity code they spawned are all but gone. Brooks blames shameless self-promotion; flinging our feelings around like Jackson Pollock’s paint; confessing everything to everyone (no matter how inane); and “radical egalitarianism,” with its negative view of high manners.
Violators of the code
We see violators of the code every day. Arrests, scandals, embarrassing drunks in bars and co-workers who must tell you about their random and sundry rashes. But the ones that stumble into the media spotlight make for an interesting study. Mark Sanford offers no apology to his wife or South Carolina constituency during his press conference. He rambles on and hopes the gloss of a book – a book – will blind others to his titanic failing and complete lack of personal dignity. Michael Jackson lives in perpetual childhood and pain unto death, then the world feeds on the carcass. Then Sarah Palin comes forward to resign from the Alaska governorship. She expects us to be inspired by her authority and trust, but she actively works to stir attention in the tabloids. Learn how to behave with dignity and you will be treated with dignity. Homespun charm isn’t enough.
Governing your passions
Do you fly through your life in pursuit of one passion after the next, without any real steering mechanism? Try some of the “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation” on for size. The roots of dignity and ethics are there, but you have to plant them in order to make them work in your own life. How you do that is up to you. One financial piece of advice I’d offer is that instead of running up a credit card bill you pay off over time (hence paying a lot more money than you needed in the first place), try payday loans and unsecured loans instead. One-time fee of $15 to $30 per $100 loaned is typical and inexpensive.
Then there is Barack
Brooks likes to point out that not all celebrities lack dignity. Whatever disagreements you may have over some of his policies, President Obama “exemplifies reticence, dispassion and the other traits associated with dignity,” writes Brooks. Will Barack Obama bring dignity back to a country that badly needs it?