Monday, February 21, 2011

By George!

When George Washington was a teenager, he discovered a booklet of 110 maxims describing how a well-mannered person should behave.

The book was The Young Man’s Companion published in London in 1664. It included a list of rules for proper social behavior that had been developed by French Jesuits almost a century earlier.

The 14-year-old George Washington spent hours filling the pages of a notebook with copies of these rules, many of which he modified to better fit his own view of proper behavior. He entitled his writings, the Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior In Company and Conversation.

George's first maxim was:

Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.

By George! Washington's notion of manners and civility may seem quaint and old-fashioned. But should manners and etiquette go completely out of style?

I don't think so.

Bad behavior is all around us. We are bombarded with tactless, nasty and cruel remarks on the internet, daytime talk shows, dating games, courtroom shows and reality programming. We've become immune to it. It's become the norm.

If we care about the world we're making for our children and our children's children, we need to be less tolerant of mean-spirited, discourteous and impolite remarks.

It's up to us to do a better job of teaching and modeling civility.

President's Day was celebrated yesterday. But today - February 22 - is truly George Washington's birthday. My Grandma Leonard shared this birthday with the Father of our Country. If she were still living, she would have been 100 years old today.

My grandma and me when I was 5 weeks old

I grew up with parents and grandparents who taught me right from wrong and did their best to guide me on a path to become a good person and good citizen.

So, on this birthday shared by Washington and my Grandma, may I remember those lessons ... and model them, too.

As Washington said in his 110th maxim:

Labour to keep alive in your Breast that little Spark of Celestial fire Called Conscience.

I had seen this video, entitled Get Service before. But a friend posted it on Facebook yesterday (thanks Sarah!) and it made me think about George Washington's model for living. (I promise it's better than the view of the guy's head in the teaser might indicate.)

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