Today the NY Times broke the news that, brace yourself, manners are on the decline because two men at an Atlanta restaurant refused to offer ladies their seats.
Sadly, the Times is behind the times. About 260 years behind the times because, according to George Washington’s “Rules of Civility,” we’ve been savages for centuries.
These two men must have been unfamiliar with Washington’s 6th rule: “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 a move that surely would have gotten the manure kicked out of him were he not over six feet and future-General material, a young George decided to transcribe by hand 110 “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.” They were based on ideas set forth by Washington’s Jesuit teachers.
In his treatise on niceties, Washington railed against whispering, spitting into the fire and, oddly, laughing. It’s no surprise given how stern and/or constipated he always seemed.
A few choice excerpts give us an indication of how far he would think we’ve fallen from grace.
24. Do not laugh too loud or too much at any public spectacle.
47. 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.
64. Break not a jest where none take pleasure in mirth; laugh not aloud, nor at all without occasion; deride no man’s misfortune though there seem to be some cause.
84. When your superiors talk to anybody hearken not, neither speak nor laugh.
91. Make no show of taking great delight in your victuals. Feed not with greediness. Eat your bread with a knife. Lean not on the table, neither find fault with what you eat.
92. Take no salt or cut bread with your knife greasy.
94. 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 but stay ’til it cools of itself.
9. Spit not into the fire, nor stoop low before it; neither put your hands into the flames to warm them, nor set your feet upon the fire, especially if there be meat before it.
93. Entertaining anyone at table it is decent to present him with meat. Undertake not to help others undesired by the master.
107. If others talk at table be attentive, but talk not with meat in your mouth.
Interestingly, Washington made no mention of bloodshed or the overthrow of monarchs, which I’m sure at least a few people found unsettling, if not downright rude.
[Image via Wikipedia]