Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: A civil tongue

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

A civil tongue

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

I never thought I’d look back on the Nixon era as a high water mark in bi-partisan discourse, but watching the health care debate play out over the past months, I have been fascinated and appalled by the level of anger, mistrust, and disrespect.

Given that everyone is trying so hard to be on the side of patriotism, I was interested to see that George Washington might have something relevant to add here. It may have been only an excerise in penmanship (does anyone still do penmanship exercises?) but he copied out something called, “110 Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.”

Here are a few that seem relevant. I present them here in their archaic spelling and punctuation and sexist language, but you get the point:

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

Let your Countenance be pleasant but in Serious Matters Somewhat grave.

Let your Discourse with Men of Business be Short and Comprehensive.

Strive not with your Superiors in argument, but always Submit your Judgment to others with Modesty.

Undertake not to Teach your equal in the art himself Professes; it Savours of arrogance.

Let thy ceremonies in Courtesy be proper to the Dignity of his place with whom thou converses for it is absurd to act the same with a Clown and a Prince.

Wherein you reprove Another be unblameable yourself; for example is more prevalent than Precepts.

Use no Reproachful Language against any one neither Curse nor Revile.

Let your Conversation be without Malice or Envy, for 'is a Sign of a Tractable and Commendable Nature: And in all Causes of Passion admit Reason to Govern.

Never express anything unbecoming, nor Act against the Rules Moral before your inferiors.

Utter not base and frivolous things amongst grave and Learned Men nor very Difficult Questions or Subjects, among the Ignorant or things hard to be believed, Stuff not your Discourse with Sentences amongst your Betters nor Equals.

Speak not injurious Words neither in Jest nor Earnest Scoff at none although they give Occasion.

When Another Speaks be attentive your Self and disturb not the Audience if any hesitate in his Words help him not nor Prompt him without desired, Interrupt him not, nor Answer him till his Speech be ended.

In Disputes, be not So Desirous to Overcome as not to give Liberty to each one to deliver his Opinion and Submit to the Judgment of the Major Part especially if they are Judges of the Dispute.

Let thy carriage be such as becomes a Man Grave Settled and attentive to that which is spoken. Contradict not at every turn what others Say.

Be not tedious in Discourse, make not many Digressions, nor repeat often the Same manner of Discourse.

Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.


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