How to Be Nice

June 25, 2012

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the lack of civility in our society. People just aren’t very nice. People readily say unkind things to one another and, and are often rude. Everyone from news commentators to schoolteachers has decried the absence of courtesy in the general public. Education in manners, we’re told, is sorely needed.

As a commuter, I’ll vouch for that.

We often act like spoiled children rather than the spoiled adults that we are. We swear at store clerks, insult public officials, cut people off in traffic, and make gestures that are, well, not very nice.

We, by the way, are not the first generation of Americans to notice that. In 1747 George Washington wrote 110 “Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour In Company and Conversation.” Some of them are rather obvious, such as rule number seven: “Put not off your clothes in the presence of others,” and number 100, “Cleanse not your teeth with the table cloth.”

But things have change a little in 250 years. Most of the people I know don’t need to be told not to pick lice off themselves in public (rule 13) or spit on the fire (rule 9). So I decided to give George W. (Washington, that is) a facelift. Here are my “Revised Rules for Decent Behavior.” See what you think.

  1. Invite others to be served ahead of yourself, especially your elders.
  2. If you cough, yawn or burp in public, cover your mouth and say “Excuse me.”
  3. Greet everyone you meet with a smile.
  4. Compliment others frequently.
  5. Don’t be critical of someone who tried his best, even if he failed.
  6. Don’t pick your nose in public.
  7. Don’t repeat unflattering things about another person, even if they’re true.
  8. Don’t tailgate.
  9. Be on time.
  10. Lend a hand to someone engaged in a difficult task.
  11. When entering a building, hold the door for the next person.
  12. Don’t talk with food in your mouth.
  13. Turn off the ringer on your cell phone when you enter a restaurant.
  14. Smile frequently.
  15. Say “thank you” to those who have served you, even if it’s their job.
  16. Discipline your own children diligently and other people’s children not at all.
  17. Men and boys should stand when any adult enters a room.
  18. Speak pleasantly to waitresses and store clerks, even when they make mistakes.
  19. Don’t insist on having your own way.
  20. Encourage people before correcting them.
  21. Don’t use foul language in public.
  22. Don’t offer your opinion unless asked.
  23. Speak well of your spouse, children and parents in front of others.
  24. Say little about your own achievements.
  25. Don’t whine you when you don’t get your way.
  26. Apologize sincerely when you are in the wrong.
  27. When you approach a parking space at the same time as someone else, let the other driver go first.
  28. Don’t talk too much.
  29. When playing a radio in public, keep the volume low enough that it will not disturb others.
  30. Be tolerant of other people and their shortcomings.
  31. Never call someone “stupid,” even if he is.
  32. Treat other people as if they were important, because they are to God.

I agree with Washington that the world would be a better place if people treated one another with courtesy and tact. Actually, all of those ideas could be summed up by this simple rule: Do to others as you would have them do to you.

Maybe we should post that saying in public places, like shopping malls or schools. Of course, that would probably violate somebody’s rights, and that wouldn’t be nice.

What rule would you add to this list?

Lawrence W. Wilson


I blog about Christian faith and ministry. I've also written a few books including The Long Road Home and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering.