Show Notes

The Soul of Civility; Book discussion with Alexandra Hudson

In this episode, guest host Julian Adorney is joined by guest Alexandra Hudson to discuss her book, The Soul of Civility. They explore the difference between politeness and civility, the harm of incivility, and the importance of heroes and mentors in inspiring better behavior. The conversation flows into the importance of courage, balancing compassion and self-protection,  and the importance of being fully present and engaged in our interactions. A truly inspirational discussion on the timeless principles to heal society and ourselves. 


  • Civility is a disposition, a way of seeing others as moral equals and worthy of respect.
  • Incivility not only hurts others, but it also harms ourselves and deforms our souls.
  • Heroes and mentors can inspire us to act with greater courage, integrity, and compassion.
  • Treating others with compassion and kindness is good for its own sake and mutually ennobling.
  • Being fully present and engaged in our interactions is a profound gift that nourishes our souls and honors the dignity of others.


00:00 Introduction and Purpose of the Podcast

01:19 Introducing the Guest and the Book

03:15 Inspiration to Write the Book

04:44 Encountering Extremes in Government

06:39 The Difference Between Civility and Politeness

08:00 Civility as an Electoral Liability

09:26 The Harm of Incivility

10:56 The Importance of Heroes and Mentors

13:53 Seeing the Hurt and Woundedness in Others

14:48 Balancing Compassion and Self-Protection

18:35 The Story of Edward Coles

20:30 The Importance of Living by Higher Principles

21:57 The Power of Civility in Vanquishing Enemies

23:53 The Power of Seeing Others as Wounded Humans

27:39 The Importance of Presence and Being Fully Engaged

Who is Alexandra O. Hudson?

 ALEXANDRA O. HUDSON is a writer, popular speaker, and the founder of Civic Renaissance, a publication and intellectual community dedicated to beauty, goodness and truth. She was named the 2020 Novak Journalism Fellow, and contributes to Fox News, CBS News, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, TIME Magazine, POLITICO Magazine, and Newsweek. She earned a master’s degree in public policy at the London School of Economics as a Rotary Scholar, and is an adjunct professor at the Indiana University Lilly School of Philanthropy. She is also the creator of a series for The Teaching Company called Storytelling and The Human Condition. 

Website: https://alexandraohudson.com/story/

Connect with Lexi on (X): @LexiOHudson

Guest host, Julian Adorney:

Julian Adorney is an author and speaker focused on preserving and rebuilding the West against the threats of illiberalism and affective polarization. He's written for Quillette, Queer Majority, National Review, the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism (FAIR) and a few other sites; and is on the Braver Angels media team. He's the founder of Heal the West, a substack movement.

Connect with Julian on (X): @julian_Liberty


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Show Transcript

Wilk Wilkinson (00:21.966)

Welcome back my friends to the Derate the Hate podcast. I am your host, Wilk Wilkinson. Your blue collar sage, calming outrage and helping to navigate a world divided by fog and those who would spread that fear, outrage and grievance. Each week I'm sharing stories from my path and using the power of conversation and collaboration with my many great guests. Together, we chart a course toward understanding, bridging divides and fostering a community.


where wisdom prevails over discord. Friends, it really is about bettering the world one attitude at a time. We did not create the hate, but together we can derate the hate. The only good thing about a bad attitude is we have the ability as individuals to change it. For me, it starts with gratitude and personal accountability. I am so incredibly grateful that you have taken the time to join me for another powerful DTH episode.


Please remember to subscribe and share the DTH podcast with your network of friends. If you would like to support the show, check out the support us page on the Derate the Hate website. With that my friends, let's get to it. Hey there friends, it is Wilk and I am out this week. So sitting in for me once again is my good friend, Julian Adorney. And Julian is joined this week by Alexandra Hudson to talk about her book, The Soul of Civility.


Now if you're not familiar with Lexi Hudson, she is an incredible person in the depolarization space and this book is definitely striking a nerve out there getting all kinds of incredible reviews. Lexi joins Julian to talk about how her experiences growing up with a mother who taught etiquette and then Lexi's own hunger for the why. Why do we do these things? As well as her personal experiences working for the government.


the extremes that polarize us, the difference between politeness and civility. And then really how do we become part of the solution? So this is incredible conversation between Julian Adorney and Alexandra Hudson talking about her book, The Soul of Civility. You do not want to miss it, my friends. And with that, I'm not going to waste a lot more time. Let's just get right into this incredible conversation. Here we go.


Julian Adorney (02:46.71)

Hi everyone, this is Julian Adorney filling in for Wilk Wilkinson on the Direct Hate Podcast. I'm absolutely thrilled to introduce this current guest to you guys. Alexandra Hudson is an incredible writer, an incredible speaker, and her book, The Soul of Civility, has absolutely touched a nerve in the hearts of the United States. It's been praised by everyone from Johnson Heights to National Review to Francis Fucciama to Monica Guzman. And everyone...


everyone has taken with it is actually the book that this moment requires, you know, this moment needs to near the country back together. So without further ado, thanks so much for joining us, Lexi. Such a pleasure. Do you want Alexandra or Lexi? 

Lexi Hudson

Lexi's fine, thank you. 

Julian Adorney

Okay. So like I said, this book has really touched a nerve for the US and everyone's been praising it. What inspired you to write this? Cause it's been many years in the writing, it sounds like. 

Lexi Hudson

Yeah, I really couldn't not write this book. I came to my interest in this topic from a very young age. My mother is called Judy the Manners Lady. And so she's this expert on etiquette, social norms, propriety. I remember always questioning everything she taught me. She'd teach me to set the table just so. And I hungered for why. Why do we do things the way that we do them? I also hate rules. 

And so I was very eager to question these, these proprieties and niceties, but I generally followed them. My mother promised they would lead to success and work school life. And she was right until I found myself at the United States Department of Education. I was there 2017, 2018, very divided time in our nation's history. And there I was confronted with these two extremes. On one hand, there were people who were hostile,


sharp elbows. They were willing to step on anyone to get ahead to get what they wanted. On the other hand, there were people who at first I thought were my people. They were polished and poised and polite, and yet these are the people who'd smile at me one moment, stab me in the back the next. And that contingent really puzzled me because my mother had said that growing up, manners mattered because they were an outward expression of our inward character. And yet here I was surrounded by people who were well-mannered enough.


Lexi Hudson (05:13.418)

and yet ruthless and cruel. And so that caused me to realize several important things. One is that the two extremes that define our public, that I experienced in government, that the extreme hostility, extreme politeness, those kind of define the excesses in our public life right now. That there's a condition that's like aggressive, hostile, things you need to like, you know,


be a strong man to puncture the culture of politeness and political correctness. It's like they're kind of over-correcting for the same problem. I also realized that these two extremes, they seem like polar opposites, but they're actually very similar because both have an insufficiently high view of the human person. They instrumentalize the other. The aggressive contingencies, the other as...


so as worth stepping on in order to get ahead, as worth bullying in order to get what they want. And the polite contingent sees others as pawns to be manipulated and that both have an insufficient respect for the dignity and personhood of the other. And third, I was reminded of the essential distinction, or I realized the essential distinction between civility and politeness, that politeness is manner, is its etiquette.


where civility is a disposition, it's internal. It's a way of seeing others as our moral equals, worthy of a bare minimum of respect. And that sometimes actually respecting others requires being impolite, telling hard truths, engaging in robust debate. So I felt frustrated, broken in government, and I wrote this book because I wanted to be a part of the solution. And I feel like...


I thought I had some thoughts and experiences that I thought could help us think more clearly about this topic today. That makes a ton of sense. And yeah, it's an absolutely captivating book. And I was struck. It's not just your thoughts and experiences. I mean, you trace back this idea of civility going back tens of thousands of years back to the first stories that we have as humans that we've ever written down, you know, the Gilgamesh ones like that. One question I had


Wilk Wilkinson (07:33.27)

So what would you say to people who say that civility is now an electoral liability rather than asset? It's, we're sort of in a culture war. And if you take that metaphor seriously in a war, you sort of want to instrumentalize your opponents. You want to do whatever it takes, stab them in the back, kick them all down, whatever makes your side win and the other side lose because the stakes are too high for anything else.


I don't think that's the right approach, but I'm curious, what would you say to someone who has that mindset? It's a great question. And you're absolutely right. We live in this high stakes era where it feels like you have to be willing to take the gloves off in order to win. The stakes are too high to be decent and kind and compassionate to the other side, the person that you disagree with. And I borrow from Dr. King.


Um, and to, to help think about this, this question, uh, and one argument in my book about in favor of civility and, and against incivility is that civility and civility doesn't just hurt the other. It hurts ourselves too. And we insufficiently appreciate that truth. But Dr. King, when he, in his letter from Birmingham jail, he writes something similar about segregation. He says segregation doesn't just hurt the segregate.


hit. It obviously does. It gives them a false sense of inferiority, but it also hurts the segregator. It hurts the person doing the segregating because it gives them a false sense of superiority. He says it deforms their soul. And this is actually where the title of my book comes from. The Soul of Civility is about why being decent, kind, gracious, compassionate to others is good for its own sake. It is mutually ennobling.


well being cruel and malicious to others. Even if we're in pursuit of a righteous cause, that is mutually harmful. And we insufficiently appreciate that today. We think that nice guys finish last, and you have to, again, be a bully in order to win and get ahead and own the libs, but that's not the case. That kind of conduct is not costless for others and for ourselves. I think that's a really good point. And yeah, there's a case where


Wilk Wilkinson (09:56.53)

Incivility is, it's sort of, even when it's a quote unquote victory, it's a pure victory. It hurts us far more than it hurts anyone else, far more than it helps our side or whatever. The end goal may be deforming our soul is not the way to get there. Exactly. You know, Dr. King was getting this from Socrates. Socrates, who he quotes several times in his letter from Birmingham jail. Socrates said that


virtue is its own reward. He says that, you know, virtue is health of the soul, treating others with compassion, treating others with justice. That is a symptom of a just soul. And Sakuragi says, treating others with cruelty, viciousness, that is the sign of an unhealthy soul, an unjust soul. And he said, a healthy soul is its own reward and an unjust soul is its own punishment.


as well. And that when we encounter people who are vicious and cruel, those people, they don't deserve our disdain. They actually deserve our compassion. We should feel sorry for them because they have a sickness of the soul, because they are clearly ill and they're suffering in their injustice and their unjust soul and acting out their injustice towards others, even if they don't realize it.


That is such a powerful point. And yeah, I've been struck by, I've known white supremacists on the right, and like genuine borderline skinheads, not whatever we call white supremacists these days, but genuinely like my race is better than everyone else's race. On the left, I've known people who just couldn't stand the side of Republicans and just couldn't humanize them. And I've known people, libertarians, who talk about Stockholm syndrome and stuff like that, and everyone who's...


just because I was a bootlicker. And the thing they have in common is none of them are happy, you know? I look at them and I'm like, I wouldn't trade any amount of money to like be between your ears because that just sounds like such a painful experience that you're living out right now. Exactly, exactly. And I think what you note is true that there is a lot of pain, there is a lot of suffering. One thing,


Julian Adorney(12:26.266)

I really admire my grandmother for was her ability to see people's hurt and woundedness that often lay just beneath the surface of their cruelty, of their vicious, the rage and anger. And she was good at what I call seeing the thing beneath the thing. She saw anger and rage, or even just like a thoughtless person but she didn't stay there. Like often-


you know, often you or I might, I know I do this, might tell a story of condemnation, you know, like that's a bad person, you know, avoid that person. She instead chose to see deeper, you know, put on this like, you know, pair of glasses that allowed her to see the hurt and woundedness and what, you know, what was going on inside of them. She told a story of exoneration, a story that said, you know, what if they're going through a divorce? What if they just got a diagnosis? What if they have a sick child, you know, that we don't-


but we never know fully what is going on in someone else's life. And we're so content often to stay at the level of like the superficial pat explanation, often the one that exonerates us and condemns them. But I think having eyes to seek the truth and to even tell ourselves a story that is just more gentle, more gentle to ourselves, more gentle to others. Like we're not in stories of exoneration, we're not painting ourselves to be the victim, you know? Like,


These stories of condemnation are like, oh my gosh, this person is a jerk and maybe they even meant to hurt me. And that perpetuates a line of thinking that actually is harmful. It promotes like distrust in society. It's like, you know, can't anyone in the world these days? And that's not healthy, not good for society or for our soul. That makes a ton of sense and really well put. So actually I had a question on that front because it's something that I wrestle with. It's like,


And I'm kind of 50-50, you know, sometimes when I mean internet troll or whatever, they'll say terrible things. And sometimes I can just be very, very compassionate. And I can be like, wow, you know, you must be going through a hard time. And it's like, okay, so how do you do that? That being non-descending, you know, that's a different thing. But then sometimes it's like, I just want to protect myself, you know? Um, I just want to lash out, attack back, keep my armor on, keep my weapons on. And I wonder if some of our listeners might be in the same place, because this is a derate, they hate podcasts, you know, we're all kind of focused on


Julian Adorney(14:48.758)

But at least for me, I find that acting out sometimes, it requires a level of courage and openness and sort of vulnerability of like, I'm going to lower my weapons and let you try and cut me because I wanna help you. And first, you think that's the right metaphor because I mean, I could be wrong. And second, if so, like, how do you do that? Like, how do you find that courage, that desire? I think one thing that I try to do in my book that is helpful,


to finding that desire, being motivated to act according to this different logic is finding heroes to look up to. And to be honest with you, I'm a little bit pessimistic about our public leaders today having been up close with so many of them. I can't imagine why. When I lived in Washington. And so I love to look to history. I'm a student of history and passionate about history. And I look to many heroes from across time, across place.


men, women, people of minority to help inspire us to act with greater courage, greater integrity. One example of this is the story of Edward Coles. Edward Coles was a neighbor to Thomas Jefferson and a generation after the founding fathers. He actually served as an aid to James Madison in the White House when he was president.


And Edward Coles early in his life became convinced of the moral evil of slavery. And he resolved very early in his life that as soon as he inherited slaves, he was going to manumit them. And that's exactly what he did. As soon as his father died and left Edward Coles his slaves, he immediately freed them. And anyway, before he got to that point in his life though, he was a part of abolitionist


activism and movements. And when he was in the White House of James Madison, he did something kind of unthinkable. He, as an aid, wrote a letter to Thomas Jefferson, this elderly statesman, the architect of liberty, calling him out for his hypocrisy of owning human beings while also being the architect of liberty and imploring Jefferson to join the abolitionist cause.


Lexi Hudson(17:12.174)

And Thomas Jefferson amazingly responded to this note that Edward Coles wrote to me. He said, Coles, great to hear from you. Thanks for your note. I'd love to be a part of abolition, but I'm too old. This is a cause for younger men, he said. And he's like, it's gonna happen anyways.


Look at the Haitian revolution, Jefferson says. This is bound to happen at some point. You don't need me. Again, tasks for younger men are gonna happen anyways. Of course you're doing the right thing, but thanks again for writing. Good to hear from you. Edward Coles wrote that again. And he said, Jefferson, that's actually not good enough. He was pretty pointed. Was like, just piece by piece took down his argument. He said, look at, you said you're too old.


look at Benjamin Franklin, like he's helping us now. He's changed his mind on abolition and he's no spring chicken, you know? And just every single argument and excuse that Jefferson put up, Cole's dismantled and said, please join the abolitionist cause. And we never heard from him and then Jefferson never responded after that. But it's really interesting because for several reasons, this is one of the only instances we have


where Jefferson was explicitly confronted about this essential hypocrisy and essentially the foundational sin of America, right? This country dedicated to life, liberty, equality of all persons while also legally condoning slavery. And also, I also love the story of Edward Coles because we hear a lot of people today who say, let's not judge the founders by the...


by the morality of the present. Can't judge the past by the standards of the present. That it was a different time with different morals and different standards. And what's interesting about that is like, and what refutes that in my opinion, is that there were people who knew better, right? People like Edward Cole's and there were others like him that knew they were convicted of the immorality of slavery. And they chose to do something about it. Cole's later after he


Lexi Hudson (19:32.238)

uh, manumitted as slaves. He actually sold his plantation, moved to Illinois and ran for governor of Illinois on an abolitionist platform. And in turn was an inspiration to Abraham Lincoln and Lincoln and Cole actually got to meet before Cole's died. And like it said, I remember you like, thank you for what you did. And I think what's so great about that is, is well, one, like, you know, Cole's is this unsung hero of American history.


He shows that sometimes actually respecting people requires telling hard truths, breaking convention, breaking norms of propriety that might say, you know, don't call someone out for hypocrisy. Don't call someone out for being racist, you know. But he did that. I tell the story in the context of my chapter on civil disobedience that sometimes actually respecting someone means taking action, telling hard truths, protesting in other ways as well. And that to your point about how we can do better,


that we need heroes in order to do better. Great people in America's history and world history, they had great people to look up to, like Lincoln looked up to Edward Coles. And we can look up to Coles as well. And we need more stories that remind us of the importance of living a life according to higher, more noble principles of respect for human dignity, of kindness, compassion.


for the downtrod and the oppressed and marginalized in society and too often values such as, manipulating people or bullying people for getting what you want, as opposed to leading them by example, or leading them with your inspiration and your truth that you're communicating. So we need to revive more mentors, more heroes.


that don't have to be perfect. Our heroes do not have to be perfect. We can still admire someone and condemn them for something. We admire them for one thing, condemn them for the other thing at the same time. But too often, we just don't have a lot of people to look up to anymore. That makes a ton of sense. And yeah, I think you're exactly right. I mean, we are kind of social creatures. And so we naturally, I mean, we become the average of the five people that we most interact with. But I think we also, we become the average of the five people most idolized.


Julian Adorney (21:57.69)

the people who we most, who most live rent-free in our heads by our own desire, who we most focus on. I heard a story a while ago from this pastor named Jeannie Winship, and he's sort of a friend of a family friend at this point. I really want to have him on the podcast at some point, but he's a, you know, Christian pastor, right? And he goes into these very, very hard, intense areas of the world where like the Muslim Brotherhood or ISIS or whoever controls


and he tries talking about peace. And there was one point where he was giving the speech about Christianity, about peace. And this local like very powerful gang leader, someone who's like decently high up in the Muslim Brotherhood or ISIS or whatever, pulls up to Jamie and he says, I'll give you a ride home. And Jamie is like former CIA, so he realizes like, you're not gonna give me a ride home, you're gonna kill me.


But he crazed over it and he feels God calling him like, get in the car. And he's very confused, but he does it. And he gets in the car, sure enough, they don't go home. They go out to the desert. And the ISIS guy and his two goons, they all have big guns, are all ready to kill him. They kick Jamie out to the desert and the main leader points a gun at his head and says, I'm going to kill you. What do you have to say about that? Hoping that Jamie will get really mad back, like screw you, I don't care, my God, whatever, I'll win in the end, the US is gonna bomb you, whatever, no.


Instead, Jamie looks at him, like looks him in the eyes, very calm, this man pointing a loaded gun at him, and he says, I'm not afraid, and I want to be your friend. And to me, every time I hear that story, first off, it does, to me, point out here is it catalyzes my desire to like, be better towards, you know, trolls, towards internet haters, towards whoever it is that's being the asshole at the moment, you know. But also, it's such a powerful example of the power of civility, of the power of seeing someone


not for their worst actions, but as a wounded human who's trying their best.


Lexi Hudson (23:59.778)

You're absolutely right. I think that I think a great, another great example to us, a great story that can inspire us is Darryl Davis as well. Love, I love Darryl and his story. And he himself, not just his story, but he has so many stories of living this exact truth of, I mean, his passion and like, he says, you know, music's his profession, his vocation. He's a African-American jazz musician, but race relations and befriending.


members of hate groups is his obsession. And he's telling stories of just, you know, seeking out and befriending people from members of the KK hate groups. And through just befriending them, converting them. And, you know, it reminds me of Socrates and insight from Socrates and Abraham Lincoln is kind of apocryphally attributed to saying like, you know, do I not vanquish my enemy when I make the most


And this is exactly what he does. And to date he's converted hundreds of members of hate group just by sitting down and seeking them out and having a conversation with them. Yeah, that's absolutely amazing. I admire Gilded Dave so much. And I think the converse is sometimes true. Like we sometimes think that, oh, the real way to vanquish my enemies is to insult them, to attack them, to harass them. Just like in a real war, we might try and cut them down. But because we're in a culture where because our weapons are words, it doesn't work that way. Our insults can't actually


someone down, the most they can do is energize them or mobilize them. I just saw an interview with Jonathan Hite actually two days ago, though it's a much older interview, he was talking to Monica Guzman, and he said, the more we attack our enemies, the more fiercely we attack them, the stronger they get. And so I really do think that there's this...


Winning them over to our side really is the only way to vanquish them because treating them with incivility just makes them stronger, just makes them more determined to fight back.


Lexi Hudson (26:02.634)

You're absolutely right. And Jonathan Haidt is also such a great example of these ideas as well, just willing to engage people. And that's the courageous thing to do. He, like I, is a fan of, like I am as a fan of John Stuart Mill, who believed that encountering people who differ from you make you better. And Edmund Burke said something similar, like you're antagonist.


is your helper because they're refining you. They're making you sharper and better. And too often we don't see that. We see people who differ from us and we assume that they're an assault on our existence. As of just seeing one another, as reasonable minds who disagree. And sorry if you can hear my baby girl who just woke up and is sad and one of them left. Oh no, that's totally okay. Can you say hi?



Well, if your daughter just woke up, do you wanna kind of wrap this up and kind of be with her? We can do maybe one more question. I know we had like about five minutes left, so we can. Okay. Yeah. Yeah, sounds good. So it's an incredible book. I would highly recommend that everyone go out and read it. You know, it's absolutely incredible. And it's 300 pages of kind of deep, deep wisdom. I'll end with a question I learned from Tim Ferriss back in the day listening to his podcast. If you had a billboard,


that you could show to every single person in the world, just, you know, cents, two cents, whatever, to kind of like distill it all down. What would you put on that billboard?


Lexi Hudson (27:52.838)

I really like the word presence this year and for this season of my life. But I think it's a good word for our world right now. We're in such a distracted age. We're in such a utilitarian age where we show up for things and for people in our lives to the extent that they benefit us, that they put us on the path towards our next step, our next goal. But there is such a profound gift in just being present.


with others and fully present, fully engaged, fully undistracted. And that's the kind of mother I aspire to be and the kind of person I aspire to be as well. Just someone who is able to disconnect from the demands of the world and even just like the ethic and the logic of our ambitious utilitarian culture. And to just be present, like even if it feels like,


It's not immediately benefiting our goals. Like it's nourishing our soul and it's honoring the other, seeing and affirming the dignity of the other. And that is good for its own sake, irrespective of any utilitarian benefit. And it's also, you know, spending time with friends, being fully present with them. It can kind of feel like going to the gym sometimes. Like you could find a million excuse not to, but you never regret it. Cause it's the stuff of the good life. Like I never, I never regret, you know, a time where I spend time with friends over dinner.


or time where, you know, unless time seems to stand still when I'm like on the ground wrestling around with my kids, like just pulling the ropes to the moment, that's the greatest gift that I can give them. And like, they give me that profound gift too. Like they show up and all they want is that time. And I know that also, the best thing that I can ever do for the world, like I wrote my book to hopefully make the world a better place.


And I wrote my book for my kids to make it a more gentle and brighter place for them to live and grow up in. But I know that the most important thing I'll ever do is to raise good humans. And so being fully present with them is like, is my greatest joy and my most important vocation. That's a really great point. A wonderful place to end. It really does start with us if we can. That's right. Yeah. All right, well, thank you so much, Lexi. Thanks for coming on. And yeah, this is a wonderful book. I very much hope it becomes New York Times bestseller.


Lexi Hudson (30:15.618)

Thanks, Julian, maybe with the help of Derate the Hate listeners, it will be, but such a pleasure to be here. Thanks for having me. Of course. Friends, if there's anything in this episode that provided exceptional value to you, please make sure to hit that share button, share it with your friends, share it far and wide. And of course, if you haven't done so already, be sure to subscribe right from our website so you can get the Derate the Hate podcast sent to your email inbox every week.


So this is WILK wrapping up for the week saying get out there, be kind to one another, be grateful for everything that you've got and remember it's up to you to make each and every day the day that you want it to be. If there is something that you would like to share with me, you can catch me on most social media platforms or you can email me directly, wilk at Wilksworld.com. With that my friends, I am going to back on out of here and we will catch you next week. Take care.

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