According to history, when George Washington was younger than 16 years old, he transcribed 110 rules of civility.
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, by approaching too near him when you Speak.
74th When Another Speaks be attentive your Self and disturb not the Audience if any hesitate in his Words help him not nor Prompt him without desired, Interrupt him not, nor Answer him till his Speech be ended.
Copywork is good for the soul. Every king of Israel was commanded to write for himself a copy of the law given through Moses,
that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.” ~ from Deuteronomy 17:18-20
Isn’t it something—to assume that a good leader would have a set of standards he or she was expected to follow? A way to treat people like people?
I can’t even listen to the news, can’t stomach a full “debate”, can’t stand the rhetoric of rolled eyes and lifted eyebrows (yours, mine, all of us rolling and raising and questioning motives) anymore. I wish for better times but I know that Scripture is true when it says that a people who follows the Lord will have a king who follows the Lord (1 Sam. 12:14-15).
And the opposite, yes.
In September of 2014 I began tutoring a group of homeschooled middle and high schoolers on Wednesdays. Once a week we meet for discussion and drill, stretching ourselves a little more and a little more as we cover ground none of us, students or tutor, have ever seen.
In Challenge A, Classical Conversations begins the study of “Debate” with a year of world geography; as in, we draw the entire world, country by country, and finish the year with a blank-page assessment. We begin in Canada and end with New Zealand, seeing just how large and just how small all the countries actually are.
And the kids asked what you might be asking: how is this called Debate? What does drawing maps have to do with arguing your point?
The answer is that we become familiar with world, its borders, and its names, and we recognize war as the largest (and not the most honorable) form of debate, as it lays down artificial borders across the hubris of man.
In class on Wednesdays we work on exchanging our pride and desire to be heard for a humility that causes us to listen first. We work on it, but we’re not ready for debate yet. We have to find our borders first.
This year in Challenge B, we have studied current events and are now preparing to participate in Mock Trial for Debate, and still, we’re not technically debating. We are defining the terms of our discussion, learning to listen closely, using our study of Logic to detect fallacies and weak points, and also finding points of agreement and things all sides might have in common. We are acknowledging that every issue has more than one side, and realizing that everyone wants to spin their own story.
Sometimes we forego the hand-raising and just have an open forum—but we don’t call each other names, don’t shout over the top of another person’s point, don’t ignore the question in order to push our own agenda.
We haven’t copied Washington’s Rules of Civility and we aren’t always patient in waiting our turn to speak, but somehow we all just know how people ought to be treated.
We are all learning that true rhetoric is the winsome persuasion towards truth, not the forceful or deceitful administration of our opinions.
I tend to be embarrassed on behalf of other people; I don’t like it when someone is put on the spot or makes a blunder or is otherwise humiliated in public. So I am embarrassed at every sound bite I hear of the current run for office. I am red-faced at the way people speak to and about each other on the television and the way the talking heads antagonize the public figures, and I am shocked at the topics that seem important enough to make it into debate speeches.
We jump into public forums and forget the wisdom of Proverbs:
In the multitude of words sin is not lacking,
But he who restrains his lips is wise.”
I am apolitical and apologetic about things that offend people, but I still think it’s important to speak. Maybe the way is to come humbly into the public forum, to know our boundaries and our names and how we got them, to see the people as beating hearts instead of opponents or potential votes.
When I am tempted to believe that everything has jumped into the hand basket headed to hell, I know I need reminded of hope. I know I need these Wednesdays that exhaust me with more words spoken and heard in that one short day than in every other day of my week, because I know I need to be surrounded by adults and children who are still learning and willing to learn.
If our classrooms and homes are places of learning, then they are places to practice civility. If our public forums and offices are not places of civility then they are not places of learning, and those who know-it-all are fools on whom words are wasted.