Book Review: George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior

As college students, it can be difficult to not be overwhelmed by the million little things out of our control. Even though we often start the day full of good intentions, by the time we go to bed, it can be easy to feel defeated by life. Thankfully, we are not stuck in this state of hopelessness. Emily Dickinson said, “If you take care of the small things, the big things take care of themselves.” 

Scripture talks about the importance of prudence and how it can give you back control by paying close attention to the little things. Proverbs 21:23 states, “Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.” If you’re looking for ways to improve your behavior, then a book entirely worth your time is George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.

At only thirty pages long with five or six rules per page, it’s an easy read to complete in an afternoon or over a weekend. We all tend to think we’re decently put-together individuals and that we’ve got things in life all sorted out. However, reading this book and dwelling on the specific rules for a couple days makes you more mindful of your behavior. Just like me, you’ll see all the points in your day where you messed up and didn’t even realize it until after the fact – something you never thought you’d do.

George Washington’s Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation is a treasure trove for understanding how to best live out our reverence for God. As Christians, we’re called to be self-controlled, virtuous, and to strive for excellence in all we do. Reading books which help increase our understanding of how to implement Biblical principles is incredibly helpful. We’re called to strive for excellence and using sources outside the Scriptures to enhance our understanding of the Lord can be quite useful.

Proverbs 29:17 tells us to “Discipline your children, and they will give you peace; they will bring you the delights you desire.” But how do we implement discipline? The Bible is not entirely clear on all the methods of discipline, so there are other sources outside the Scriptures which give light to answering this question. Using our knowledge of the New Testament, we can gauge how we ought to implement any disciplinary methods offered by other sources.

An effective way to refine our behavior is to remember that the people we interact with aren’t the only people we’re acting towards. We are constantly proclaiming to those around us, directly or indirectly, how seriously we take God’s commands. So, I challenge you as Paul does, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters.” We are constantly serving either God or Satan, so we must be vigilant to ensure we are serving only God!

We must take the Holy Scriptures to heart and always remember that Romans 12:1 calls us to become a “living sacrifice” so we may “offer [our] bodies to God as our “reasonable service” with what Ephesians 6:5-7 calls “sincerity of heart.”

A considerable number of the rules may not seem applicable to modern day life, but with a bit of meditation I myself have found ways to apply the 18th century etiquette lessons into my 21st century lifestyle. Rules 34 through 43 vary in what mannerisms they address but essentially say the same thing – be prudent and respectful! I’m often reminded when reading this book that respecting others is one very effective way of earning the respect of others. 

Prudence and respect are quintessential for the Christian life. Not because it gives us a good feeling but because we indwelt with the Holy Spirit. As we strive to ascribe as much respect towards others, we also learn how to respect ourselves as vessels, channels, and ambassadors for our Lord! Respecting the dignity of others in my life has been invaluable in [seeking and pursuing] peace” (Psalm 34:14). I highly encourage all my brothers and sisters in Christ to read this book and ponder ways they may apply it to their own lives for the glory of the Lord!

*All Scripture taken from NIV unless otherwise noted