George Washington – How Did He Become So Great?

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George Washington

Washington’s Birthday, also known as Presidents’ Day, was first celebrated as a holiday in the District of Columbia in 1880. It was made a federal holiday in 1885. The holiday was originally held on the anniversary of George Washington’s birth, on February 22. In 1971, this holiday was moved to the third Monday in February.

Volumes have been written about our first president. That alone is worth contemplating. We live in a day and age when it becomes easy to be consumed with things that contribute nothing to preparing oneself to be a man or woman rich in character. Few and far between are those who are able to set goals, persevere through difficulties, serve others sacrificially, think critically, and push oneself beyond limits to do even more in their ongoing pursuit of excellence. There was a time when these things were the norm. Society knew that a fulfilling life could only be had by diligently pursuing the acquisition of these virtues and learn self government. For only when one can govern themselves are they able to govern a family, community, state, or nation. America became great because of the many individuals who pursued personal greatness by seeking to master himself.

At 16, George Washington had great aspirations and, in order to achieve them, he knew he had to become a man of substance. He chose to hand write a list of 110 rules on civility that were compiled by 16th Century Jesuit priests. There is no doubt that the time Washington spent as a boy writing out and practicing these rules helped shape the magnanimous statesman he would become as an adult. MAGNANIMOUS – showing or suggesting a lofty and courageous spirit. We should make it our aim to pursue these kinds of qualities.

Commemorating Washington’s life, Fisher Ames spoke of Washington as one of “that small number” of men “who were no less distinguished for the elevation of their virtues than the luster of their talents. . . who were born, and who acted through life as if they were born, not for themselves, but for their country and the whole human race.” Echoing the young officers who served with Washington in his youth, Ames said that, even as a young man, Washington had “acquired a maturity of judgment, rare in age, unparalleled in youth. Perhaps no young man had so early laid up a life’s stock of materials for solid reflection, or settled so soon the principles and habits of his conduct. . . .”  (http://www.pbs.org/georgewashington/father/qualities.html)

I wonder what would happen if we all began to practice these rules of civility? One can only guess at what America could look like once again. There is nothing magical about this list. Some will seem outdated and silly. It simply encompasses old fashioned ideals and manners that, when practiced diligently, make one stand out among the rest.

Here are a few of the 110 he hand wrote. For the full list, click HERE.

~ Sleep not when others speak, sit not when others stand, speak not when you should hold your peace, walk not on when others stop.

~ Show not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.

~ If any one come to speak to you while you are are sitting stand up, though he be your inferior, and when you present seats, let it be to everyone according to his degree.

~Let your discourse with men of business be short and comprehensive.

~Strive not with your superior in argument, but always submit your judgment to others with modesty.

~ Associate yourself with men of good quality if you esteem your own reputation; for ’tis better to be alone than in bad company.

~In your apparel be modest and endeavor to accommodate nature, rather than to procure admiration; keep to the fashion of your equals, such as are civil and orderly with respect to time and places.

~Detract not from others, neither be excessive in commanding.

~Speak not injurious words neither in jest nor earnest; scoff at none although they give occasion.

Maybe it’s time to raise the standard once again, to envision something greater than the temporal pleasures that satisfy self, and like George Washington, act as if we were born, not for ourselves, but for our country and the whole human race.

“There is no truth more thoroughly established than that there exists in the economy and course of nature an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness.”

GEORGE WASHINGTON, First Inaugural Address, Apr. 30, 1789

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