Hail to the Chief

On February 22nd, we honor the birthday of President George Washington, Father of Our Country, officially celebrated on the third Monday of February.  Although myths regarding this legendary figure abound—most notably, his proclaimed response “I cannot tell a lie” when his father asked his son if he had cut down that cherry tree—Washington was notably a man of honor and character.

According to scholars, a major influence on Washington as a youth was an exercise in which he transcribed—shortly before the age of sixteen—Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation, that originated from the teachings of a 16th century French Jesuit as guidelines of conduct for young men. Of the 110 rules, many were more aligned with the etiquette and protocol of the day, such as personal hygiene and grooming, how to dress suitably and comport one’s physical body, and where it was permissible to spit—certainly not on others.  However, the many of the rules pertained more to respect and consideration for one’s fellow beings, as well as morality.

To examine a few:

1st Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.  Close to a summary of the remaining 109 rules.

6th Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not when you Should hold your Peace, walk not on when others Stop.  In other words, pay proper attention to the folks around you.

14th Turn not your Back to others especially in Speaking, Jog not the Table or Desk on which Another reads or writes, lean not upon any one.  What might Washington think about cell phones and cubicle etiquette?

35th Let your Discourse with Men of Business be Short and Comprehensive.  Once you’ve made your point, don’t ramble on.

40th Strive not with your Superiers in argument, but always Submit your Judgment to others with Modesty.  You may not have all of the answers!

56th Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad Company.  You may be judged—as well as tempted—by the ill company you keep.

63d A Man ought not to value himself of his Atchievements, or rare Qualities of wit; much less of his riches Virtue or Kindred.  Champion your own authenticity, remembering that humility is a virtue.

65th Speak not injurious Words neither in Jest nor Earnest Scoff at none although they give Occasion.  It’s hard to retrieve words, once spoken.

76th While you are talking, Point not with your Finger at him of Whom you Discourse nor Approach too near him to whom you talk especially to his face.  Governor Jan Brewer, remember this lesson!

79th Be not apt to relate News if you know not the truth thereof. In Discoursing of things you Have heard Name not your Author always A Secret Discover not.  Never gossip or spread rumors without fact checking.

81st Be not Curious to Know the Affairs of Others neither approach those that Speak in Private.  Don’t be a busybody.

89th Speak not Evil of the absent for it is unjust.  This could be a halt to political campaigns as we know them.

It’s hard to know how Washington might have comported himself, as a man or as a president, if he were alive today, given our current political milieu.  However, if he behaved today, as he did back then, I’m convinced that he would still be a rising star, shining brightly above the rest … an example for other politicians to emulate.


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