Progress. The word is used to describe things moving forward, usually with improvement. However, in our modern society of hiding behind computer screens, have we progressed as a civil society? One only need scan the headlines to see stories about violence amongst Americans. Whether it be riots over political ideology, gun violence for who knows what, children fighting in schools, or the constant level of disrespect oozing from every corner of the American culture, our society has regressed to a level not seen in centuries.
When did we stop educating people in respect? Respect for others, including authority, is a core building block of any civil society. Debate and discourse are healthy for our Republic, but only when civilized.
For many generations, Americans were taught civility through multiple avenues including family, church, and society. While a majority of Americans have left the church, and society has become more pop-culture, and less culture, this leaves the family. Family can mean lots of things, and not always blood-relatives. For many in this modern society, family is not available for support or guidance, for a multitude of reasons. Their fraternity or sorority, close friends, or even military unit have become their reliable family.
Wherever a person learns the lessons to be a civil member of society is not important, as long as the proper lessons are learned. Yet, without the church’s teachings in morality as a guide, where does society turn for its lessons?
At a very young age George Washington found an answer to this question in a book on etiquette written by a French scholar. Washington copied 110 rules of civility and decency into his study book and used these rules to guide him in public and private life.
With some of the lessons being broad and focus on dealing with others, Every Action Done in Company Ought to Be With Some SIgn of Respect To Those That Are Present, some focus on the individual, Put Not Off Your Clothes in The Presence of Others; Nor Go Out of Your Chamber Half-Dressed, and the always pertinent, If You Cough, Sneeze, Sigh, or Yawn, Do It Not Loud, But Privately; and Speak Not In Your Yawning, But Put Your Handkerchief or Hand Before Your Face and Turn Aside.
All three of these are simple lessons, yet have expounding consequences on society when ignored. One of the best lessons in Washington’s list is something I heard many times as a child and young adult, yet it took adulthood to fully understand:
Associate Yourself With Men Of Good Quality If You Esteem Your Own Reputation; For ‘Tis Better To Be Alone Than In Bad Company.
At first read this may seem like a jumbled mess to many, so here is the 21st century translation: Better to be alone than spend time with bad people – guilt by association is real.
If we were discussing this a few decades in the past, there would only be a few solutions for anyone wanting to learn, and share, all of Washington’s life lessons. Either this article would be 110 bullet points, and take on an entirely different concept, or one would have to hunt through used bookstores for a copy of George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. Lucky for us, we live in the modern internet age and can find any information with a few keystrokes.
Do yourself, your children, the future, and society as a whole a favor, find this book, read repeatedly, and live your life to a higher standard than those wishing to drag us down into anarchy.