Civility: Without it, there can be no society worth inhabiting, no human interaction in peace, and certainly no life in a private square of friends like Freemasonry. The urgency of civility in the Masonic lodge is emphasized by Grand Master Bill Thomas, speaking from the East in his travels about New York. Civility is at the root of civilization—and not just etymologically speaking either.
Around the time I was initiated into Freemasonry in 1997, I was attracted to a book by Richard Brookhiser, biographer of Washington, Hamilton, the Adamses, Madison, and other giants of U.S. history. He created a slim hardcover text titled Rules of Civility: The 110 Precepts that Guided Our First President in War and Peace that consisted of lessons in ethical and sophisticated behavior George Washington gleaned from a 17th century book intended to advise young men on mature attitudes and conduct. Today, those very lessons—all timeless, relevant, and in dire need in 2015—are available free of charge to you, courtesy of the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Virginia. From the publicity:
George Washington’s many virtues have, for centuries, led Masons to regard him as a true exemplar of the dignity and morality that our Craft espouses. He was twenty years old when be was initiated into Freemasonry and became exposed to the beautiful values taught in our degrees. But we know that Washington was already thinking about values and decorum about four years prior to that. Francis Hawkins’ 1661 book, Youth’s Behavior, Or, Decencie in Conversation Among Men, was a popular volume used in the education of young people in Washington’s day. At some point during Washington’s adolescence, he had occasion to make a copy of a section of this book.
The section is titled, “The Rules of Civility and Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation,” and Washington’s manuscript of it still survives in the Library of Congress. It is a manual of behavior comprising 110 guidelines for maintaining friendly and respectful relations among people. They show young Washington’s concern for civil behavior in public, in private, in business, and in all other realms of life. While some of the rules seem antiquated to us now, most are as useful today as they ever were. They provide important reminders for civil discourse and offer a fascinating window into the values that shaped George Washington from his very youth.
The George Washington Masonic National Memorial Association has published George Washington’s Rules of Civility as a 36-page booklet, and we are proud to make it available to you free of charge (North America only). Simply click here to request your copy today!