Marina Raydun: In our day and age, civility tends to be underappreciated. What made you become so passionate about the concept that you chose to make a career out of it?
Lew Bayer: You know, I’ve been lucky in my life in that I have experienced civility my whole life. My parents were very conscious of manners and social graces- I can recall toiling over thank you cards after my 5th birthday, for example. I had the benefit of an amazing support network of neighbours and aunties and uncles who spoke kindly and cared for me, as well as the privilege of working with a professional civil manager at my first job. As I got older and experienced all kinds of incivility, I came to realize that not everyone had the same experiences as I did. I think it was Wayne Dyer that said, “you can’t get orange juice from lemons”…or something like that. As such, I came to understand that you need to teach people how to be kind, how to speak nicely, how to behave in public, how to be nonjudgmental etc. And so I started teaching etiquette and civility as a business.
MR: Word choice is certainly a substantial part of what it means to be civil. What is the first experience you had when you learned that language had power?
LB: This is a great question. When I was young: I was often introduced by my mother (who meant no harm doing so but caused harm nonetheless) as “our adopted daughter.” I could see the pity and judgment on people’s faces, and I knew that the word “adopted” changed how people saw me (and to me, how my mother valued me). I lived with this label my whole life-it shaped my relationships with my siblings, my mother, relatives and it also impacted my self-worth.
MR: You travel quite a bit in your line of work, which must mean lots of plane time. My favorite part of any airport is the bookshop. What do you like to read when you’re up in the air?
LB: Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I read anything nonfiction. I am an information junkie and constantly reading whitepapers and research, textbooks, and often the dictionary, because communication, writing, tone-these are important aspects of civility. As an aside, if you don’t feel like chatting on the plane, pull out the dictionary and start reading. No one bothers you when you’re reading the dictionary.