Tips from George Washington's Self-Help Manual

Every action in company ought to be done with some sign of respect to those that are present.

With that mild but firm assertion begins a little book of self-improvement that George Washington copied down as a teenager. There followed 109 rules, and by the time Washington had written them all into his notebook "“- in what was probably the equivalent of a homework assignment -- he had taken them to heart, and he attempted to follow them for the rest of his life.

The pamphlet was called "Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation" "“- a shorter title than many of today's self-help guides. It was composed by French Jesuits in 1595, and later rendered into English. It's unclear how the publication reached America, but its effect on Washington's character and behavior were profound, according to historian Richard Brookhiser, who published an annotated edition of "Rules of Civility."

brookhiser_GW.jpg Our age is not unique in its hunger for self-improvement. "Eighteenth-century Americans were eager for good advice, especially advice concerning their conduct," Brookhiser wrote in the introduction.

But you'll find none of the self-affirming "I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!" among Washington's 110 precepts. Instead, there are reminders to respect the personal space of others, and that one should take pains not to embarrass another. The rules spell out the delicate dance of how to be a well-mannered guest and host and, in the class-conscious society of Washington's day, how properly to behave in the presence of one's superiors and inferiors.

The value of many of the rules is still obvious. Others are amusing because conditions of life are so changed. All are worth considering. So, with concern for your self-improvement on this Presidents' Day Weekend, here are 14 more:

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

2. Spit not into the fire, nor stoop low before it, neither put your hands into the flames to warm them, nor set your feet upon the fire, especially if there be meat before it.

3. Kill no vermin, as fleas, lice, ticks etc., in the sight of others. If you see any filth or thick spittle put your foot dexterously upon it, if it be upon the clothes of your companions put it off privately, and if it be upon your own clothes return thanks to him who puts it off.

4. Read no letters, books, or papers in company, but when there is a necessity for the doing of it you must ask leave. Come not near the books or writings of another so as to read them unless desired, or give your opinion of them unasked. Also look not nigh when another is writing a letter.

5. Let your countenance be pleasant but in serious matters somewhat grave.

6. Shew not yourself glad at the misfortune of another though he were your enemy.

7. To one that is your equal, or not much inferior, you are to give the chief place in your lodging, and he who "˜tis offered ought at the first to refuse it, but at the second to accept though not without acknowledging his own unworthiness.

8. Mock not nor jest at anything of importance, break no jests that are sharp, biting, and if you deliver any thing witty and pleasant, abstain from laughing thereat yourself.

9. Let your conversation be without malice or envy, for "˜tis a sign of tractable and commendable nature, and in all causes of passion permit reason to govern.

10. Speak not of doleful things in a time of mirth or at the table; speak not of melancholy things as death and wounds, and if others mention them, change if you can the discourse. Tell not your dreams, but to your intimate friend.

11. Be apt not to relate news if you know not the truth thereof. In discoursing of things you have heard name not your author. Always a secret discover not.

12. In company of those of higher quality than you, speak not till you are ask'd a question, then stand upright, put off your hat, and answer in few words.

13. Speak not evil of the absent for it is unjust.

14. Make no show of taking great delight in your victuals. Feed not with greediness. Eat your bread with a knife (i.e. cut it into small pieces), lean not on the table, neither find fault with what you eat.

David Holzel
, editor of The Jewish Angle ezine, is an occasional contributor to mentalfloss.com.

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Win a Trip to Any National Park By Instagramming Your Travels
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If you're planning out your summer vacation, make sure to add a few national parks to your itinerary. Every time you share your travels on Instagram, you can increase your chances of winning a VIP trip for two to the national park of your choice.

The National Park Foundation is hosting its "Pic Your Park" sweepstakes now through September 28. To participate, post your selfies from visits to National Park System (NPS) properties on Instagram using the hashtag #PicYourParkContest and a geotag of the location. Making the trek to multiple parks increases your points, with less-visited parks in the system having the highest value. During certain months, the point values of some sites are doubled. You can find a list of participating properties and a schedule of boost periods here.

Following the contest run, the National Park Foundation will decide a winner based on most points earned. The grand prize is a three-day, two-night trip for the winner and a guest to any NPS property within the contiguous U.S. Round-trip airfare and hotel lodging are included. The reward also comes with a 30-day lease of a car from Subaru, the contest's sponsor.

The contest is already underway, with a leader board on the website keeping track of the competition. If you're looking to catch up, this national parks road trip route isn't a bad place to start.

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15 Dad Facts for Father's Day
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Gather 'round the grill and toast Dad for Father's Day—the national holiday so awesome that Americans have celebrated it for more than a century. Here are 15 Dad facts you can wow him with today.

1. Halsey Taylor invented the drinking fountain in 1912 as a tribute to his father, who succumbed to typhoid fever after drinking from a contaminated public water supply in 1896.

2. George Washington, the celebrated father of our country, had no children of his own. A 2004 study suggested that a type of tuberculosis that Washington contracted in childhood may have rendered him sterile. He did adopt the two children from Martha Custis's first marriage.

3. In Thailand, the king's birthday also serves as National Father's Day. The celebration includes fireworks, speeches, and acts of charity and honor—the most distinct being the donation of blood and the liberation of captive animals.

4. In 1950, after a Washington Post music critic gave Harry Truman's daughter Margaret's concert a negative review, the president came out swinging: "Some day I hope to meet you," he wrote. "When that happens you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and perhaps a supporter below!"

5. A.A. Milne created Winnie the Pooh for his son, Christopher Robin. Pooh was based on Robin's teddy bear, Edward, a gift Christopher had received for his first birthday, and on their father/son visits to the London Zoo, where the bear named Winnie was Christopher's favorite. Pooh comes from the name of Christopher's pet swan.

6. Kurt Vonnegut was (for a short time) Geraldo Rivera's father-in-law. Rivera's marriage to Edith Vonnegut ended in 1974 because of his womanizing. Her ever-protective father was quoted as saying, "If I see Gerry again, I'll spit in his face." He also included an unflattering character named Jerry Rivers (a chauffeur) in a few of his books.

7. Andre Agassi's father represented Iran in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics as a boxer.

8. Charlemagne, the 8th-century king of the Franks, united much of Western Europe through military campaigns and has been called the "king and father of Europe" [PDF]. Charlemagne was also a devoted dad to about 18 children, and today, most Europeans may be able to claim Charlemagne as their ancestor.

9. The voice of Papa Smurf, Don Messick, also provided the voice of Scooby-Doo, Ranger Smith on Yogi Bear, and Astro and RUDI on The Jetsons.

10. In 2001, Yuri Usachev, cosmonaut and commander of the International Space Station, received a talking picture frame from his 12-year-old daughter while in orbit. The gift was made possible by RadioShack, which filmed the presentation of the gift for a TV commercial.

11. The only father-daughter collaboration to hit the top spot on the Billboard pop music chart was the 1967 hit single "Something Stupid" by Frank & Nancy Sinatra.

12. In the underwater world of the seahorse, it's the male that gets to carry the eggs and birth the babies.

13. If show creator/producer Sherwood Schwartz had gotten his way, Gene Hackman would have portrayed the role of father Mike Brady on The Brady Bunch.

14. The Stevie Wonder song "Isn't She Lovely" is about his newborn daughter, Aisha. If you listen closely, you can hear Aisha crying during the song.

15. Dick Hoyt has pushed and pulled his son Rick, who has cerebral palsy, through hundreds of marathons and triathlons. Rick cannot speak, but using a custom-designed computer he has been able to communicate. They ran their first five-mile race together when Rick was in high school. When they were done, Rick sent his father this message: "Dad, when we were running, it felt like I wasn't disabled anymore!"

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