Civility, Washington and Ruth

We need a lot more of it. It is sometimes confused as boring, but I think if there was more civility in this world, it would be in a better place. Welcome to this week’s word, Civility.

One place a dash of civility could be helpful would be in Congress.  As we near another debt ceiling crisis, perhaps a bit of civility may help solve the problems. But, do our Senators and Representatives know how to be civil?

It seems to me that Etiquette — its history and modern day practices — which is a hobby of mine, is a big part of being civil. It’s fascinating to me how things have changed in this realm– some for the better. I can’t imagine having wear gloves with every outfit, especially on 90+ degree days. Stockings, yuck! But there are some rules that never change.

As I was writing this, I vaguely remembered a book on civility that I purchased years ago. Thankfully I put all of my etiquette books together, so it was easy to find. It’s a book by George Washington called “Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation.”
Though the language in this slender booklet is very old fashioned, there wasn’t one rule that didn’t contain a germ of truth.
According to a description of the book, “The rules focus on self-respect and respect for others through details of etiquette.” These rules got him successfully through a revolution, birth of a nation and two presidential terms.
Washington’s opening rule: “Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.” Hmm. A good rule. A rule that doesn’t go out of style.
Washington discovered these rules when he was a teen. He copied them as a penmanship exercise.

Can’t you envision a young Washington sitting at a wooden table with a goose-feather quill pen, probably by candlelight, dutifully copying these 110 rules traced back to French Jesuits? These were rules he lived by for the rest of his life. A successful life. A memorable life.

When I first started writing this entry, I thought, wouldn’t it be fun to ask everyone who is reading this post to send a copy of Washington’s book to Senate Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker John Baynor for them to read and share with all of their colleagues.
Then I thought, wouldn’t it be better if we purchase a few as gifts to those who are in grammar school. Those who may be our future leaders?
Having said all that, there are times where being uncivil is appropriate. However, there are few caveats if you choose to misbehave:
  • You have to be doing something for the greater good, not personal gain
  • You have to be smarter than everyone in the room, I mean really be smart, not just think you’re smart
  • You have to have researched your passion and know, really know your subject
In my career, I was fortunate to meet a phenomenal woman, Ruth Rothstein, who could’ve been considered uncivil. But she had to. When she started on her journey to being the leader in bringing affordability and accessibility to healthcare, women were not taken seriously. Their roles were typically homemakers or secretaries.
To forge ahead, Rothstein had to be disruptive. She already knew her subject manner. It seems like that came easy to her. What didn’t come easy was the respect of the men in her peer group. So, she had to call it like she saw it.
She called men SOBs when warranted, she used the f word when needed, and disregarded naysayers.  She shocked people and did it well. And, she succeeded.
Using Rothstein’s example, if you’re not making headway with your cause or passion, being uncivil can be powerful. Remember, to be effective, you will need to be smarter than everyone in the room, and know your subject from every angle.
I didn’t know Rothstein as well as many of my friends did. She shocked me, frightened me, but was supportive of me.
So, this is dedicated to Rothstein, who died August 4th. She influenced so many people. I know her spirit lives on. So, look for some uncivil, yet productive behavior from those she mentored, because they are everywhere.
Civility. Share you thoughts, and recent examples of (positive) civility.
Enjoy.