I’ve been reading a book about achieving excellence.1 The author references various qualities perceived to be soft, which are actually hard to master, but are nonetheless invaluable.
One early bit that has caught my attention is George Washington’s focus on civility. As a boy, he copied out a Jesuit manuscript from the 16th century, titled “110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior”. These rules were formative in Mr. Washington’s approach to life.
In our much more, um, ‘advanced’ times, many of these rules might seem peculiar and inapplicable. Still, I think wistfully about what Twitter could be like if they were incorporated into the terms of service.
Here are a choice few:2
Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present.3
When you see a crime punished, you may be inwardly pleased; but always show pity to the suffering offender.4
In visiting the sick, do not presently play the physician if you be not knowing therein.
Undertake not to teach your equal in the art himself professes; it savors of arrogancy.
In writing or speaking, give to every person his due title according to his degree and the custom of the place.5
When a man does all he can, though it succeed not well, blame not him that did it.6
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 show no signs of cholor but do it with all sweetness and mildness.
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.
When another speaks, be attentive yourself 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.7
Mock not nor jest at any thing of importance. Break no jests that are sharp, biting, 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.
Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for ’tis a sign of a tractable and commendable nature, and in all causes of passion permit reason to govern.8
Be not hasty to believe flying reports to the disparagement of any.9
Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad company.10
Let your countenance be pleasant but in serious matters somewhat grave.11
Put not off your clothes in the presence of others, nor go out of your chamber half dressed.12
Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.
I am making an effort to hold to a number of these rules through a trying election season. It is not easy, especially in the face of a tsunami of vocal and present trolls.13 That said, I implore you all- build civility and kindness into your discourse. Not for them- but for yourself.