Self-help projects: an American tradition

“I award him my ultimate insult: He is no gentleman.” – Kinnison

If you’re new to my blog, you might think the above quote comes from another century, but rest assured it’s from a true gentleman, who comments here occasionally.  Few men today in America even think or put forth the effort to develop the character of a “gentleman” and society suffers for their scarcity.  Vulgar behavior, gratuitous violence, disrespect and violence toward women and children fill that void.  Now the counterpart to gentlemen used to be “ladies”, but the desire to redesign gender, social order, the workplace and even the bedroom make even uttering the word “lady” an insult to the modern-day feminist woman.  So, here we are with the rules of civil behavior tossed to the garbage heap.

With the new year comes the usual resolutions, almost invariably focused on healthy-living and getting your life organized.  Along with the resolutions we’re inundated with self-help advice from experts on how to turn those resolutions into reality.   Well, as for me, I am going to keep working on forgiveness and I added forbearance to my list.  And I sure need to also work on the healthy-living and getting organized too.

Although ladies and gentlemen are a rarity, a few still exist in America and they’re almost exclusively found within the ranks of the US Armed Forces (both active and retired).  With the social engineering there, they’ll be extinct shortly, but let’s take a little trip back in time and look at two of America’s founding fathers and how they made character development an integral part of their daily lives and in typical American fashion, they did it as a self-help project, without any formal instruction.

First up, my favorite founding father, George Washington, America’s first President, commander of the Continental Army, that secured our liberty, farmer,  and self-taught gentleman.  Sure, he was a slave-owner and he wasn’t some perfect person, but he achieved a great deal in his life worth emulating.  Since everyone likes visuals more than reading, here’s a National Geographic documentary and as with everything in America these days, the comment section runs on and on with partisan diatribes about the video – on the right, it’s called a liberal witch hunt to denigrate the founding fathers, and on the left, you can find charges about his owning slaves disqualifying him as worthy of any place in history.  Here’s the video:

What I really wanted to focus on is how George Washington made it a point to copy and study a common guide for manners and decorum,  Rules of Civility, that Jesuit tutors had used from the late 1500s onward, to train young boys of the wealthy.  Young George got a hold of a copy and carefully copied all 110 rules and he studied them.  Americans come by their self-help penchant honestly, because it’s been a part of America from the very beginning.  This is the land of “you can become anything you want to be” and George Washington became the father of our country.  His immense popularity could have made him king, but he insisted on being a President, who served the Republic and then retired.

The “Rules of Civility” is available free online at many sites. Here are a couple links:

If you’d like to read more about the Rules of Civility, I recommend Richard Brookhiser’s slim book, which offers an excellent introduction and interesting commentary about the various rules.

Next up Benjamin Franklin, statesman, inventor, scientist, publisher, revolutionary, and self-help guru too.

Benjamin Franklin described his self-help regimen as the 13 Virtues. He came up with his plan when he was 20 years old and he devoted a week to each of the 13 virtues, in an ongoing cycle. He described keeping a chart of his progress

For more reading on Benjamin Franklin here’s a link to his autobiography:


Filed under American Character, American History, Food for Thought, General Interest

3 responses to “Self-help projects: an American tradition

  1. Robert

    Interesting thread. I heard a remark some years ago by a youngish woman that there seemed to be no more gentlemen around. An elderly woman responded to her that that was because there was a corresponding shortage of ladies around to set forth expectations. So here we are today. Chivalry was a code of behavior that had expectations of men and boys, but also of women and girls. That doesn’t even touch on behaviors among men alone or of women alone.
    I suspect that among some young women, they sense they are missing out on what they are deserving of. At the same time, I suspect that among some young men, they suspect they are missing out on what on what efforts they used to be obliged to make. Maybe times will change.

  2. Very true Robert, Leave it to DeTocqueville to presciently describe post-modern America, after a few decades of feminism attempted to erase ladies and gentlemen from our cultural history:

    “There are people in Europe who, confounding together the different characteristics of the sexes, would make of man and woman beings not only equal but alike. They would give to both the same functions, impose on both the same duties, and grant to both the same rights; they would mix them in all things—their occupations, their pleasures, their business. It may readily be conceived, that by thus attempting to make one sex equal to the other, both are degraded; and from so preposterous a medley of the works of nature nothing could ever result but weak men and disorderly women” (Democracy In America, Vol 2, Book 3, Chapter XII)

    The most ironic thing about feminism is some feminists, like Democrat-supporter, hard-nosed businesswoman, Martha Stewart, have tapped in to this wide swath of women yearning for a life where manners, good taste, keeping a nice home and preparing food to entertain family and friends ruled supreme, and they’ve made a fortune off of these traditional women clinging to the past. I actually own Martha’s “Housekeeping Handbook” and a couple of her cookbooks, lol.

  3. Pingback: The American Spirit | libertybelle diaries

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