In 1999, a national poll found over half of all Americans believed that “getting kids off to the right start” should be the number one national priority, and Editor Henry C. Wheelwright, conceived this book as part of the answer. He felt that if children are taught basic manners early in life, they might experience and cause less trouble as they become teens.
Starting with the Rules of Civility, written by President George Washington when he was a boy in the 18th century, Wheelwright looked around for a possible source for similar thoughts from the early 21st century. Since the three and a half million Cub and Boy Scouts in the United States emphasize right action, and at the time were actively observing the 200th year of Washington’s death, he decided to use their thoughts as a parallel to the writings of George Washington as a boy. He asked the boys to imagine themselves in George Washington’s place at a similar age, and come up with their own rules of civility. Out of 5,000 submissions, he came up with 200 rules of civility.
He divided the George Washington Rules into 30 categories, making 30 chapters in the book. Each category contains the pertinent Rules as written by George Washington, supplemented by the related rules written by the Cub and Boy Scouts selected for inclusion. Also included are comments relating to other Rules of Civility books popular both before and after Washington’s penning of his rules. The chapters include thoughts on Personal Appearance, Pride/Arrogance, Temper, Fairness and many other categories of which a well-mannered and considerate youth and adult should be mindful.
Browsing through the various chapters, the parallels are striking, indicating the elements of civility are timeless. The differences are also interesting. As was typical of his time, Washington used more formal language, while the Scouts were more casual, which is indicative of the casualness of modern times. Despite the language used, the substance of how to act civil has not changed.
Many of the thoughts contained in this little book are profound. It is the author’s hope that if more young people take these thoughts to heart, we will have less anti-social behaviors by both adults and young people in the future.