Polarization Series: The Soul of Civility. Alexandra Hudson

It's easy to look at the impacts of rigid polarization and blame our leaders and political parties, the media, or the education system. In this episode, we hear an argument that the first thing all of us should do is focus on what we can control: ourselves. We discuss how to learn to live with others despite deep divisions. 

All democracies need protests and debates to flourish. But we also need to respect ourselves and acknowledge the dignity of others.

Alexandra Hudson is the author of the new book, "The Soul of Civility", and an adjunct professor in philanthropy at Indiana University. She argues that civility is a key solution for polarization and a breakdown in social order. In her writing she examines how civility—a respect for the humanity of others—transcends political disagreements. Civility, she writes, is not a technique, but a disposition: "a way of seeing others as beings endowed with dignity and inherently valuable."

The divided state of the world "is a timeless problem. It's an intractable problem, but there's no policy solutions or simple cure," Lexi tells us. "It requires constant vigilance on behalf of each of us. That's humbling."

We learn about the crucial difference between outward politeness, polish or poise, and civility which requires constant internal work and the application of true character. We individually have the power to improve and change, Lexi says. Her book looks at arguments for civility from the ancient times until the present day.

Recommendation: Richard recently read "The Spinning Heart" by the Irish writer Donal Ryan. This short, powerful novel set in a small town in Ireland in the wake of the 2008 financial collapse. People are left without work, with routine and meaning in their lives. Each short chapter is from the vantage point of a different speaker who has been wounded — by the economy as well as by their parents, their lovers, by life. The book is funny and poignant.

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