Treating People Well

Love may make the world go round but civility is a close second.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve been noticing a real decline in civility lately. People have a difference of opinion and before you know it, the name-calling and the insults start flying. Social media is certainly part of the problem, so is the fellow currently sitting in the Oval Office…

What to do? Here’s a new book on the very subject: Treating People Well: the Extraordinary Power of Civility at Work and in Life. The authors, two former White House social secretaries, explain the whys and wherefores of civility.

First a definition of civility. My dictionary defines it as “politeness.” But I would take it further than that. I see it as a kind of glue that binds society together, allowing people to get along with each other. Or maybe it’s treating people like they really matter—because they do.

Treating People Well is a lively and engaging book by Lea Berman and Jeremy Bernard, who served under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama respectively. Being a White House social secretary is a tough gig! Working a 12-hour day is considered a “light” day. One of the authors recounts planning 24 holiday parties in 21 days, hosting 11,000 people. Whew!

The authors offer numerous anecdotes about various White House social events, what worked (or didn’t) and what they learned along the way. Favourite anecdote: the time an elderly nun body-checked a female military aide in order to be the first to shake the president’s hand. WH social secretary response: help the officer up and gently steer the over-exuberant nun towards the food table.

Who’s got difficult people in their life? Who doesn’t? The authors offer a number of helpful suggestions: keep smiling, ignore what you can, distract and deflect, and set firm boundaries. (Actually they sound a lot like toddler-taming tips. LOL)

Berman and Bernard suggest that civility is contagious. (Alas, incivility is too.) So that makes civility a win-win for everyone. Or as the authors so elegantly put it “it’s the rising tide of respect and well-being that raises all boats and over time makes the world a better place.” Sounds good to me.

— Penny D.