Geo Washington’s 110 Powerful Rules for a Civil Society

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By George! civility book cover

By Kathy A. Megyeri  

Amidst a contentious Presidential campaign, nationwide protests over America’s Mideast crises, and increased instances of personal anger and violence on the rise, “By George, Mr. Washington’s Guide to Civility Today” by Steven Michael Selzer is a timely book of advice.  

Selzer, who is a George Washington University alumnus, wrote the book as part of his campaign to increase civil behavior in the legal profession and researched the subject of civility only to find that a 14-year-old George Washington wrote 110 rules of civility and decent behavior. Even though these guidelines are almost 275 years old, they are still relevant today. Selzer presents the rules with added commentary for each and describes how they can be applied today whether coping with everyday stress, interpersonal conflicts or in business matters.  

Selzer knew people long for greater civility, which is so much more than good manners. It means “behaving honorably and ethically in all aspects of our lives,” but as Selzer notes, “We just don’t know how to behave anymore. We’re supposed to be assertive and forthright but at the same time polite and civil so why don’t we look to a founding father who personified personal integrity as he carried his list of 110 rules of civility with him throughout life?” 

Related: Book Review: “Unbecoming a Lady,” by Therese Oneill  

It is no matter that some of Washington’s words are archaic and that in his time all gender references are in the masculine. Selzer explains each rule in his attempt to increase empathy, sensitivity and respect for others. Here are just 10 of the over 100 rules: 

  1. Every action done in company ought to be done with some sign of respect to those that are present. 
  1. Be not tedious in discourse; don’t digress or repeat. Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive. 
  1. Sleep not while others speak or speak not when you should hold your peace. 
  1. If you cough, sneeze, sigh, or yawn, do it not loudly but privately. 
  1. Be not a flatterer or offer superfluous compliments. 
  1. Don’t be glad at the misfortune of another, even though he’s your enemy.  
  1. Don’t misrepresent yourself when offering advice. 
  1. Don’t argue defensively. Listen to what is being said and respond with consideration. 
  1. Be not apt to relate news if you know not the truth thereof. 
  1. Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience. 

Author Selzer implores readers to think of themselves as human beings first instead of identifying ourselves by the jobs we hold. That way, we will develop a stronger sense of empathy toward others and that strain of common humanity that runs through all of us. To celebrate this July 4th holiday, consider reading “Washington’s Guide to Civility.”