CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — Miss Manners would like you to put down your cell phone and consider: What would George Washington do?
Syndicated columnist Judith Martin said Friday that she would create a new set of rules for modern American civility, based on those followed by the nation's first president. She considers the rules more necessary than ever for a "peaceful, non-annoying society."
The effort, "The Civility Project: Where George Washington Meets the 21st Century," will be created with the help of students from the University of Virginia and was the brainchild of Theodore J. Crackel, editor in chief of the university-based Papers of George Washington.
Martin said the past couple generations of parents failed to give their children proper etiquette guidelines, telling them: "Be natural, be yourself" instead of instilling rules of civility.
Modern inventions like telephones and computers have provided more opportunities to be rude, disrespectful and inappropriate. And that's just the start of the long, discourteous slide.
Take courtship and dating: "The whole idea of courtship is a mess," Martin said. "Nowadays you can have people who have had an extremely romantic encounter who have no way to know whether they're in a relationship."
To come up with new rules, students will collect suggestions using a Web site and consult with Martin. Crackel said he hopes to finish the new rules this fall and publish them as a book alongside Washington's famed 110 rules.
The current economic crisis might signal a good time to focus on civility and appropriate behavior, Martin said. She considers blatant greed the top etiquette problem among Americans.
"The nation at large is going through a repulsion of greed," she said. "These things had been pushed out of the dialogue, and I'm trying to push them back."
Push them back a couple of centuries, to be precise. The rules Washington carried as a young man included: "Put not off your Cloths in the presence of Others, nor go out your Chamber half Drest" and "Sleep not when others Speak, Sit not when others stand, Speak not when you Should hold your Peace, walk not on when others Stop."
How Washington obtained the rules, drawn from a set written at a Jesuit college in France, remains a mystery. Crackel said some historians believe the 16-year-old Washington got a handwritten copy of the rules from a tutor who used it as a penmanship exercise.
Erica Mitchell, the student coordinator of the manners project, said she hoped the basic rules that Washington followed can still endure in a world of text messages and Twitter.
"I think that my biggest concern has been that people have become more coarse in their communication with others," she said. "Things would move more smoothly if people took regard of others and paid attention to courtesy."
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.