Try not to make a spectacle of yourself
Rules 24 through 34 are directed towards proper behavior in public, where it is necessary to interact with others without drawing excessive attention to oneself. Many of them are no longer in practice. They discuss the proper way of saluting those encountered by the removal of one’s hat, and the manner in which it should be done. Men no longer remove their hats when they encounter acquaintances and others on the streets. Most men don’t even remove their hats when sitting at table, and the once simple gesture of taking off a hat in an elevator when a woman enters is long dead.
“If any one come to speak to you while you are Sitting Stand up though he be your Inferior…” instructs politeness be expressed to those of a lower social standing, not just one’s peers. The Virginia society of which Washington was part was divided by class, with the great plantation owners at the top. Washington was not of the top strata, at least not until near the end of his life. When he entered the House of Burgesses he was representative of the merchants, artisans, and tradesmen of his district and he was reputed to treat all of his constituents with the same respect and courtesy he exhibited to those of the social class above his own.
Another of the Rules in this category, in language too flowery to include here, states that once a service has been offered to a social inferior and refused it should not be pressed. Nor should a service be offered with the hope that it be refused, especially in public. These Rules should be followed to prevent one from making a show of oneself as being overly generous or thoughtful. Calling attention to your superior position through the guise of offering generosity is both hypocritical and thoughtless, as it can unnecessarily humiliate another.
“It is good Manners to prefer them with whom we speak before ourselves…”, Rule 34, is a simple edict to be considerate of others at one’s own expense. Throughout his lifetime, beginning at a very young age, Washington learned to command. In the Virginia militia, the Continental Army, and as President of the United States, he had to not only command, but lead. Leadership requires an understanding of the needs of those being lead, and their respect. Rule 34, which is simply a requirement to show respect to others in conversation, no doubt helped Washington develop the tools of leadership with which he helped form a nation.
George Washington was a very large man for his day, although recent study proves that he was not as tall as legends make him. According to the doctors who measured his corpse he was just slightly over six feet tall. Nonetheless he stood out in a crowd, and was easily identified from afar. The Rules of Civility which he copied that instructed how not to make a spectacle of himself were probably important to him, and he appears to have followed them diligently. Following the heated debates over the Constitution at the Convention, several delegates wrote of his quiet dignity and his deliberate manner in considering the arguments of all sides.