Washington Didn't Write the Rules, He Lived Them

by Midnight Freemaosn Contributor
Bro. Michael Arce

The handwritten rules from the "Father of his country" are not lost to the past.

A few years ago, I was handed a copy of Washington's "Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation" at a Lodge meeting. The Worshipful Master of the Lodge had secured a stack to share with the Brothers during his visit to the George Washington Masonic National Memorial in Alexandria, Virginia. What impressed me the most about the Master's visit was that he was able to talk his wife into making a Masonic education "pit stop" during their family vacation. That alone was a bold move! I put my paper copy of the Rules in my coat pocket that night, listened to the Master's presentation on the Mt. Vernon estate, and found the Rules later that evening when I took off my suit at home.

The Rules sat, untouched on my dresser for a good three months.

One summer day, I was looking for something quick to read by the pool and dusted off my copy of the Rules. If you haven't read them for yourself, there is an interactive, digital version here, provided by the Mount Vernon Ladies' Association. Like many who read the rules on the first pass, I found many of them to be stuffy and outdated. The rules that address "manners" cover coughing in public, how to cut your bread, posture, and presentation are a bit, how do I say this? Obvious and extremely old fashioned. The rules that address how to properly cut your bread remind me of the recent lesson I had with my 13-year-old son on how to hold a knife at the dinner table.

These rules will seem familiar to any man who was brought up in a house where manners were expected, not prompted from the sidelines. Honestly, these rules seem absolutely lost after you spend time with young people today, who have been allowed to stare into their phones, avoid eye contact, and cannot answer a question with more than a one-word response. An adult would instantly correct this behavior had theses kids been born just a generation earlier.

The Rules on "behaviour" are stacked among the rules of civility, a point that frustrated me. I wondered why Washington would present his Rules in this manner? If I weren't a Mason and a fan of history, my time with the book would have ended when I finished reading the 110 Rules that summer afternoon. But, I had questions. Thankfully, we do live in the age of Google; after a few searches, I had a better understanding of the origins of this book. First, these are "Washington's" rules. Insert your *gasp* here.

Young George copied these when he was about 14-years old in the 18th century as a lesson to improve his penmanship (another manner slowly dying in this century) with the bonus of educating a young man on how to present himself in public. I'm waiting like a Tiger in tall grass for the "teachable moment" when I can order my 13-year-old son to write these rules down. We can also discuss his lack of manners at that time... Back to George. If Washington didn't write the rules, who did? French Jesuits in 1595.

 A little digging into the history of that time shows that the idea of "all men being created equal" was seeded in the principle of courtesy: treating others as equals or near-equals to the same creator. Insert *mind blown* here. Of the six Jesuit values, teaching behaviors that reflect critical thought and responsible action are reflected in the 110 rules that guide the reader on how to regard the human race as one family. And lucky for us, they just happened to fall into the hands of the most famous American of all time. Washington may not have written his book, the Rules weren't his ideas, but they were principles upon which he built the foundation of trust and respect that cemented his character in everything he touched.

I live in Upstate New York, where historical markers point to every battlefield, inn, tavern, and building that Washington laid his hand on. If you are up to the challenge, find a copy of the Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. Every day when you have a free moment, read ONE rule, and try to live by it. Sure, not spitting in the fire, picking ticks from your socks, or cutting your bread with a greasy knife might be easy assignments for the day. But let me know how day 88 goes when you wake up to read, "Be not tedious in Discourse, make not many Digressions, nor repeat often the Same manner of Discourse."

 On the level, my Brothers.


Brother Michael Arce is a member of Mt. Zion #311, Troy, New York. When not in Lodge, Bro. Arce is the Marketing Manager for Capital Cardiology Associates in Albany, New York. He enjoys meeting new Brothers and hearing how the Craft has enriched their lives. He can be reached at michael.arce@me.com

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