Spring is generally a time of personal reflection and renewal. Americans take up activities like physical fitness boot camps, spring cleaning, self-denial during the Lenten season… Okay. I can almost hear you adding March Madness to the list 🙂 Some of George Washington’s practices remind me of these early spring rituals. Thanks for joining us as we continue in our study of “Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation” (Applewood Books, 1988).
Washington took seriously the rules for how to walk, eat, and converse. His sense of morality governed his behavior in all interactions. Take, for example, Rule #56: “Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for it is better to be alone than in bad company.” It’s my understanding that teens who FaceTime more than they have face-to-face conversations are some of the loneliest people. Washington would say that it is better to be alone than to be with people who bring out our lowest common denominator. What is a man or woman of good quality, if not someone who calls you to a higher standard of excellence when you are with them? Washington seemed to understand at a young age that a lifetime of building a good reputation can be torn down in an instant. Therefore, he valued solitude over a passing desire to hang with people who would appeal to his lower nature. Americans would do well to spring clean their list of friends once in a great while. I have done this in the past. It is hard but sometimes necessary.
Rule #58 seems to indicate that Washington not only wanted quality friendships. He strove to guard his own walk and talk. “Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for it is a sign of a tractable and commendable nature; and in all cases of passion admit reason to govern.” Man, oh man. Americans have turned malice (hostility, animosity, ill-will) into a sport on social media. I see this routinely as I manage the comments on this page. I’m convinced malice happens because it is so much easier to say the unthinkable when you are not in the presence of your perceived enemy online. I think George would remind us to type out our venting, walk away from it, come back, and delete it. Don’t hit the “send” button. When in doubt, don’t say it. After all, the passion he talks about isn’t a love affair. It is anger unleashed. Instead, Washington reminds us to be reasonable. In other words, get a grip!
As I type this book study, I am reminded that these rules for civility are goals to reach for, not medals of honor achieved. So, if you’ve “lost it” or hit “send” when you shouldn’t have today, take comfort that as Americans, our journey is on the road to excellence, not perfection.