Flunking the Rules of Civility

When I first started doing my radio show about two years ago, I had a panel of guests of various ages who discussed the Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior that George Washington had copied for a school assignment at the age of 16. The 110 rules were originally written by French Jesuits in 1595 and at their core really describe a life focused on other people rather than self-interests. How far we have come in 419 years, and it’s not a road well-traveled.

In the last 20 years, the emphasis in the schools, and now at home, has been on self-esteem and self-worth, and the value of learning to focus on others has slipped away. Teachers and parents alike are tip-toeing around kids and their unruly behaviors so that they don’t feel shamed by manners and discipline. Is it working? If we look around we see spoiled disrespectful brats in most restaurants, schools and on athletic teams. These kids wouldn’t lift a finger to help their parents without arguing about it first or proclaiming how unfair it is to have to help support the daily grind of operating a house. Parents are exhausted and overwhelmed by these children and know they have created monsters but don’t know what to do. If that is your household, then I would suggest establishing the rules of civility in your home.

The next time you all sit down to dinner (which needs to be quite often if you want to raise well adjusted adults), I encourage you to start reading from the following list and get your children to explain what these rules mean and how they intend to start implementing them in your home. These conversations can be useful for kids ages five on up and you will be surprised how much your kids want the structure that might be lacking in your home.

Here are some of my favorites from the Rules of Civility that can change your household and get your otherwise lazy and entitled children on the right path:

Rule 6 Speak not when others Speak, Sit not when others Stand, speak not when you should hold Peace, walk not on when others stop.

Ask your children what this means to them. This is a rule about showing respect and using manners. There is no shame in either of those characteristics. Have each of your children tell you one way they can practice this rule starting today that will make a difference in your home. Suggest to them that this rule means that all electronics are to be turned off when the family is eating together (and that includes yours as well!).

Rule 40 Strive not with your Superiors in Argument, but always Submit your Judgment to Others with Modesty.

Imagine a home where the teenagers actually consider that they don’t know it all and that they should be respectful when expressing their opinions. The tricky part about these rules is that we have to lead by example here so the adults have to follow them as well! Ask your children how they can get along better with everybody in the household by having them name one thing they can do differently each day.

Rule 52 In your Apparel be Modest and endeavor to accommodate Nature, rather than to procure Admiration. Keep to the Fashions of your equals Such as are Civil and orderly with respect to Times and Places.

Don’t we all long for a world where people dress appropriately and children are excited to look and act mature? I used to love getting dressed up to travel on an airplane when I was a child and miss that experience now. Ask your children to go an entire week without arguing with you about what they are wearing to school or out for an evening and show you that they understand modesty.

Rule 56 Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for tis better to be alone than in bad Company.

Encourage your children to list three qualities that they believe are important to have a successful life and ask them to name three friends that have the same qualities. Encourage them to develop these relationships with people that will encourage them to make good decisions.

These are just a handful of the 110 rules and as I read them all, it is frightening to think about how badly our society has strayed away from them. We can’t be afraid to go back to them and start encouraging respect, manners, courtesy and modesty in order to get our children on the right path. Today we are flunking the rules of civility but we don’t have to be. Start with one rule at a time and get your children involved in the discussion. Write down what is important to you as a person and as a family and set a goal of implementing one new rule each week. A family without respect will fail and a society without civility will crumble…. It is only just a matter of time.

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