Congress could use a health dose of (Miss) Manners


A healthy dose of manners

Dear Miss Manners:

I’m upset by the health care reform debacle, too – so mad I could spit, as the saying goes. But I won’t. Nor will I name-call or threaten anyone. Most of my friends won’t, either. But how do we get the message out to the yahoos?

Gentle Reader:

Protest, like every other human activity, requires etiquette. The saddest thing about rude tactics is that they damage the causes for which they are used. Rather than seeing they are being shown a way to improve the world, the targets focus on their immediate mistreatment.

Miss Manners would think it obvious that to persuade people, you must open their minds to your arguments. People who are humiliated shut down and turn defensive.


If one cannot be civil about health care, imagine what will happen when the debate shifts to immigration!

However, if Miss Manners’ word doesn’t suffice, consider another authority. The etiquette model followed by George Washington should be appreciated both by protesters who are inspired by the founders and first principles, and by those who, regardless of faction, work in the city that bears the great man’s name.

As a youth, our first president copied the “Rules of Civility & Decent Behaviour in Company and Conversation.” As a man, he lived them. Miss Manners offers samples, with a caution to Gentle Readers: Being first in war, first in peace, and first in table manners does not make one first in spelling or punctuation:

1st Every Action done in Company, ought to be with Some Sign of Respect, to those that are Present.

12th Shake not the head, Feet, or Legs(,) rowl not the Eys(,) lift not one eyebrow higher than the other(,) wry not the mouth, and bedew no mans face with your Spittle. …

20th The Gestures of the Body must be Suited to the discourse you are upon.

22d Shew not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another though he were your enemy.

35th Let your Discourse with Men of Business be Short and Comprehensive.

41st Undertake not to Teach your equal in the art himself Proffesses; it Savours of arrogancy.

(42d Let thy Ceremonies in) Courtesie be proper to the Dignity of his place (with whom thou conversest for it is absurd to ac)t the same with a Clown and a Prince.

44th When a man does all he can though it Succeeds not well(,) blame not him that did it.

45th Being to advise or reprehend any one, consider whether it ought to be in publick or in Private; … in reproving Shew no Sign of Cholar but do it with all Sweetness and Mildness.

48th Wherein you reprove Another be unblameable yourself; for example is more prevalent than Precepts.

(4)9th Use no Reproachfull Language against any one(,) neither Curse nor Revile. (A big deal, notes Miss Manners.)

56th Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad Company.

58th Let your Conversation be without Malice or Envy, for ’tis a Sig(n o)f a Tractable and Commendable Nature: And in all Causes of Passion (ad)mit Reason to Govern.

59th Never express anything unbecoming, nor Act ag(ain)st the Rules Mora(l) before your inferiours.

65th Speak not injurious Words neither in Jest nor Earnest(.) Scoff at none although they give Occasion.

67th Detract not from others(;) neither be excessive in Commanding.

70th Reprehend not the imperfections of others for that belong(s) to Parents(,) Masters and Superiours.

73d Think before you Speak(,) pronounce not imperfectly nor bring ou(t) your Words too hastily(,) but orderly & distinctly.

76th While you are Talking, Point not with your Finger at him of Whom you Discourse(,) nor Approach too near him to whom you talk(,) especially to his face.

79th Be not apt to relate News if you know not the truth thereof. …

82d Undertake not what you cannot Perform(,) but be Carefull to keep your Promise.

86th In Disputes, be not So Desireous to Overcome as not to give Liberty to each one to deliver his Opinion and Submit to the Judgment of the Major Part(,) especially if they are Judges of the Dispute.

89th Speak not Evil of the absent for it is unjust.

110th Labour to keep alive in your Breast that Little Spark of Ce(les)tial fire called Conscience.

Miss Manners (and Joe Biden) know well the temptation to let emotions dictate behavior, whether in praising the health-care bill or espousing its repeal. But down that road tread the unbearable, who deserve their isolation from polite society.

The first president offered a superior path. Why not take it? Remember, when a society abandons its ideals just because most people can’t live up to them, behavior gets very ugly indeed.