George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decency

Emily Post published her successful book on etiquette in 1922. But before that, there was George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decency in Company and Conversation. However, young George Washington only hand-copied these rules (in the 1740s) from an English version of the rules first documented in 1595 by French Jesuits. Clearly, etiquette is something that withstands time.

Though etiquette ebbs and flows over the years, loosening from the grips of restriction and tightening under the loss of…well…civility, it is still an important aspect of keeping our society cordial. It’s seems that now may be a good time to revisit the Rules of Civility and Decency. Though some of the original rules may seem antiquated, (like Rule # 9—Spit not in 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), the essence of most of the rules apply to present day in some way.

How does etiquette apply to caregiving?

It may seem silly to have to remind caregivers to be civil to those they care for. After all, just the term caregiver evokes the image of someone who is sensitive to the needs of others. But caregivers are people too. And just like in other aspects of our lives, there is caregiving etiquette. This ezine article, Caregiving Etiquette – Ten Do’s and Don’ts, by Rebecca Sharp Colmer [—Ten-Dos-and-Donts&id=1351623] is a great place to start. But George Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decency can apply to caregiving too.

Rules of Civility & Decency
George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decency: Rule #1

For example, whether you’re a professional or family caregiver, it’s always important to remember Rule #1: Every action done in company ought to be with some sign of respect to those that are present. And don’t forget, this goes both ways. It is just as important for the care-receiver to treat their caregiver with respect. This quote brings this point to bare. “Consideration is the basis of etiquette, and it starts at home. If you can’t show consideration to your spouse, child, or family member, any consideration you show outside is shallow and a farce.” Chinha Raheja.  Think of it this way, if you can’t show consideration to the one who is caring for you or the one you are caring for, any courtesy you show others is shallow and a farce.

The Rules of Civility and Decency in today’s society: 

Etiquette - Rule #18
Rule #18 – Still applies today – in a new way

In today’s technology age, we have a whole new list of rules for proper behavior, such as, rules that apply to emails, cell phones, texting, and social media. This demonstrates that while the specific Rules of Civility are constantly evolving, they are also constantly present. Daniel Post Senning (the great-great grandson of Emily Post) says it well. “Manners change, but principles are timeless and eternal.” [ He explains this by pointing out that it’s rude to use your cellphone at the dinner table and how that wasn’t relevant in Emily Post’s time. But I bet you we can find a rule in George Washington’s list that applies. (See Rule #18). [Go to for more on etiquette in the digital world.)

Have some fun

110 Rules of Civility & Decency

Dr. Shawn Duperon is a gossip expert. She talks about “good” gossip and that it teaches us how to behave. That’s what they’re doing on talk shows like the The Talk. They shine a light on the behavior of celebrities and other well know people or trends and discuss whether their behaviors are acceptable or unacceptable in today’s society.

You can do the same thing with friends. Pull up the 110 Rules of Civility and Decency and challenge each other on your etiquette. Talk about how they might apply to modern society. Consider modern day “inventions” that didn’t exist in George Washington’s day (the mid 1700s). Consider the current news cycle and discuss where etiquette is/isn’t being used.

Or visit The Emily Post Institute, where they teach us that “principles of good manners remain constant.”  How many Rules of Civility and Decency can you find in Emily Post’s Etiquette Rules?

In the end

The French Jesuits summed it up well in their last rule: Rule #110: Labor to keep alive in your breast that little spark of celestial fire called conscience.

Shopping Cart