"By wisdom a house is built, and by understanding it is established; and by knowledge
the rooms are filled with all precious and pleasant riches." ~Proverbs 24:3-4

Not Just For Kids

Etiquette & Ethics

"A good moral character is the first essential. It is highly important not only to be learned but to be virtuous." ~George Washington

Etiquette (et' i ket) - the manners established as acceptable in social relations.
Ethics (eth' iks) - a system or code of morals and standards of conduct.

According to the legendary Emily Post, etiquette is today what it has always been: a code of behavior based on kindness, consideration and unselfishness-something that should not, and will not, ever change. Manners, which are derived from etiquette, must be maintained even in an ever-changing world. The proper behavior that we call etiquette is for everyone at every stage of life, regardless of age, income, or position in society or business. Good manners are as important for the youngest child as they are for the older adult - and that includes teenagers.

Before Bill Clinton's generation came on the scene, young people were expected to behave properly, and to demonstrate good manners and morals. For example, it has never been polite to interrupt a conversation between persons older than yourself, unless you have something very important to say. You should gratefully say "I thank you," and not just mumble "thanks," when someone helps you or a kindness is shown to you. It is not polite to frown, sulk, or "talk back" when you are reproved for some neglect or offense. It is not polite to complain of the quality or the quantity of the food which is set before you.

Unfortunately, it seems that many modern teens scoff at such rules, as shown in these remarks about etiquette made by several high school students:

"Reliance on, like, a strict set of rules is, kind of, a sign of immaturity, in the sense that you need someone to tell you how to act, that you can't think of your own ways to respect people."

"It's just your personality, and what you want to do, and the way that you want to do it."

"You should be yourself regardless, there should not be a reason for you to act like somebody else wants you to act."

However, for past generations, as demonstrated by George Washington and his contemporaries, character was important - and it did not mean self-expression.

George Washington's first lessons in good breeding came from a book entitled Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation, which listed 110 rules of behavior for young men. The Rules of Civility were originally compiled and published by French Jesuits in 1595. This code of conduct was translated into an English version called Francis Hawkins' Youths Behavior, or Decency in Conversation Amongst Men, and was reprinted at least eleven times between 1640 - 1672.

One copy of this English translation came into the hands of George Washington when he was about 16 years old, at his Ferry Farm home near Fredericksburg circa 1744. Washington carefully hand-copied these rules into a notebook, presumably as an exercise in penmanship. At the same time, the rules taught the teenage Washington how to walk, talk, and eat. They also conveyed a moral message, of paying attention to those around you.

In the 18th century, the teenage Washington took these rules to heart. While some may make you smile, most are valuable modern-day lessons for us all. The following are 55 selected excerpts:

  • Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.
  • 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.
  • Sleep not when others speak; sit not when others stand; speak not when you should hold your peace; walk not on when others stop.
  • Shift not yourself in the sight of others, nor gnaw your nails.
  • Shake not the head, feet, or legs; roll not the eyes; lift not one eyebrow higher than the other, wry not the mouth, and bedew no man's face with your spittle when you speak.
  • Turn not your back to others, especially in speaking; jog not the table or desk on which another reads or writes; lean not upon anyone.
  • Keep your nails clean and short, also your hands and teeth clean, yet without showing any great concern for them.
  • Do not puff up the cheeks, loll not out the tongue with the hands, or beard, thrust out the lips, or bite them, or keep the lips too open or too close.
  • Be no flatterer, neither play with any that delight not to be played withal.
  • Read no letter, books, or papers in company; come not near the books or writings of another so as to read them, or give your opinion of them unasked,- also look not when another is writing.
  • Let your countenance be pleasant but in serious matters somewhat grave.
  • Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.
  • When you see a crime punished, you may be inwardly pleased; but show pity to the suffering offender.
  • Superfluous compliments and all affectation of ceremonies are to be avoided, yet where due they are not to be neglected.
  • If any one come to speak to you while you [are] sitting, stand up, though he be your inferior, and when you present seats, let it be to everyone according to his degree.
  • When you meet with one of greater quality than yourself, stop, and retire, especially if it be at a door or any straight place, to give way for him to pass.
  • In speaking to men of quality do not lean nor look them full in the face, nor approach too near them at left. Keep a full pace from them.
  • Strive not with your superior in argument; always submit your argument with modesty.
  • Do not express joy before one sick in pain, for that contrary passion will aggravate his misery.
  • When a man does all he can, though it succeed not well, blame not him that did it.
  • Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be in public or in private, and presently or at some other time; in what terms to do it; and in reproving do it with all sweetness and mildness.
  • Take all admonitions thankfully in what time or place soever given.
  • Mock not nor jest at any thing of importance - and if you deliver any thing witty and pleasant, abstain from laughing thereat yourself.
  • Use no reproachful language against any one; neither curse nor revile.
  • Wear not your clothes foul, or ripped, or dusty, but see they be brushed once every day at least and take heed that you approach not to any uncleanness.
  • In your apparel be modest and endeavor to accommodate nature, rather than to procure admiration.
  • Play not the peacock, looking every where about you, to see if you be well decked, if your shoes fit well, if your stockings sit neatly and clothes handsomely.
  • Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for 'tis better to be alone than in bad company.
  • Let your conversation be without malice or envy.
  • Never express anything unbecoming, nor act against the rules before your inferiors.
  • Laugh not alone, nor at all without occasion; deride no man's misfortune though there seem to be some cause.
  • Speak not injurious words neither in jest nor earnest; scoff at none though they give occasion.
  • Be not forward but friendly and courteous, the first to salute, hear, and answer; and be not pensive when it's a time to converse.
  • Detract not from others, neither be excessive in commanding.
  • Go not thither, where you know not whether you shall be welcome or not; give not advice [without] being asked, and when desired do it briefly.
  • Reprehend not the imperfections of others, for that belongs to parents, masters, and superiors.
  • Gaze not on the marks or blemishes of others and ask not how they came.
  • Think before you speak; pronounce not imperfectly, nor bring out your words too hastily, but orderly and distinctly.
  • When another speaks, be attentive yourself; and disturb not the audience. If any hesitate in his words, help him not nor prompt him; interrupt him not, nor answer him till his speech has ended.
  • 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.
  • Whisper not in the company of others.
  • Be not curious to know the affairs of others, neither approach those that speak in private.
  • Undertake not what you cannot perform but be careful to keep your promise.
  • When you deliver a matter do it without passion and with discretion, however mean the person be you do it to.
  • When your superiors talk to anybody neither speak nor laugh.
  • In company of those of higher quality than yourself, speak not 'til you are asked a question, then stand upright, put off your hat and answer in few words.
  • Speak not evil of the absent, for it is unjust.
  • Feed not with greediness; lean not on the table; neither find fault with what you eat.
  • If you soak bread in the sauce, let it be no more than what you put in your mouth at a time and blow not your broth at table; let it stay till it cools of itself.
  • Neither spit forth the stones of any fruit pie upon a dish nor cast anything under the table.
  • Put not another bite into your mouth till the former be swallowed; let not your morsels be too big.
  • Drink not nor talk with your mouth full.
  • Be not angry at whatever happens and if you have reason to be so, show it not but on a cheerful countenance especially if there be strangers.
  • When you speak of God or his Attributes, let it be seriously; reverence, honor and obey your natural parents although they be poor.
  • Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

    Click here to download the complete text of George Washington's 110 Rules of Civility

    Did You Know…?
    The Library of Congress owns George Washington's original handwritten manuscript for Rules of Civility, along with many of his other school exercises.


    Ethics: An Early American Handbook,
    by Benjamin B. Comegys. Much attention has recently been focused on ethics and character education. Ethics - the practice of morality - is the foundation of sound character. Soundness of character is, and always has been, crucial for a nation's longevity. An understanding of the principles of ethics was never more needful than it is today. Consequently, children and adults alike will benefit from a reprint of an 1890 textbook on ethics published in 1999 by WallBuilder Press (www.wallbuilders.com). This book contains the lessons that parents once used to instill moral principles in the hearts and minds of their children - in the days when Americans were renowned worldwide for their honesty and trustworthiness. Ethics provides a series of thoughtful lessons on character traits as taught in previous centuries, followed by discussion questions. Although some of the specific examples are quaint and old-fashioned, the ethical principles are timeless, and you can make up your own modern-day hypothetical scenarios. Chapter titles include: Truth - in which you will find out five ways people lie, and why each should be avoided. Profanity - why it is not only offensive, but dangerous. Obedience - why this unpopular virtue is so necessary. Conscience - why you will never be happy if you have a troubled conscience. Conscientiousness - why it's vital to do the best job you possibly can. Forgiveness - the three reactions you can have to being wronged, and why it's so important to forgive. Additional chapters focus on the topics of industry, honesty, fidelity, justice, politeness, gratitude, benevolence, purity, repentance, treatment of enemies, and duty. (Duty to God, duties to parents, duties at school, duties to playmates, and even duties to animals!) This book will hopefully inspire citizens of all ages to improve their own character, which will ultimately improve the character of our whole nation.

    A 21st Century Ethical Toolbox,
    by Anthony Weston.

    Anyone interested in learning more about ethics can benefit from this book. It treats ethics not as an academic, historical or theoretical subject, but as a contemporary topic that makes use of a wide range of practical skills. It provides the necessary tools to work out the controversial moral issues of today. The book also includes pertinent selections from essayists, activists, and philosophers. Activities at the end of each chapter provide students, teachers, and laypersons with much food for thought, making this an ideal textbook on ethics. This book is appropriate for introductory ethics courses, at undergraduate level, as well as upper high school level. It may also be used as recommended reading in any course concerned with ethical themes, such as medicine, business or teaching, or as supplementary reading for upper-level ethics courses.

    Character Matters,
    by Thomas Lickona.

    In this book, psychologist-educator Tom Lickona offers more than 100 practical strategies on "How to Help Our Children Develop Good Judgment, Integrity, and Other Essential Virtues." He shows how irresponsible and destructive behavior can invariably be traced to the absence of good character and its 10 essential qualities: wisdom, justice, fortitude, self-control, love, a positive attitude, hard work, integrity, gratitude, and humility. The culmination of a lifetime's work in character education, this book gives us the tools we need to raise respectful and responsible children, and build the caring and decent society in which we all want to live.


    www.history.org/Almanack/life/manners/rules2.cfm (Colonial Williamsburg version of the Rules of Civility, with period illustrations.)

    http://gwpapers.virginia.edu/documents/civility/index.html (Washington's Copy of Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation. See a digitized facsimile of Washington's original hand-written manuscript, read the complete transcript, and learn more about its history.)

    http://gwpapers.virginia.edu/civility.html (“The Civility Project: George Washington Meets the 21st Century.” Students at the University of Virginia created a modern-day rules of civility, based on the 110 rules of civility that George Washington famously copied as a young man. The new rules are divided into 12 topics: Image, Public Events and Occasions, Commitments, Communication, Privacy and Personal Space, Living with Others, Social Hierarchy, Dating and Relationships, Food and Drink, Money, Hospitality, and Public Spaces.)

    Click here to download the complete text of George Washington's 110 Rules of Civility


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