Reviving the wisdom of the past

We need community and to engage our minds to lead meaningful lives and to become fully human.

Lexi is the curator of Civil Renaissance, a newsletter and intellectual community. She is an award-winning writer and journalist currently writing on a book on civility and civic revival for St. Martin’s Press, one of the top five largest publishing houses in the world. 

“I am passionate about the way that ideas and storytelling can change people’s lives. As a journalist and a lifelong lover and student of intellectual history, I view everything through the prism of my love of history and philosophy. That’s why I created Civic Renaissance, and publication and intellectual community dedicated to beauty, goodness and truth—and reviving the wisdom of the past to help us think more clearly about our own era. My work on civility and civil society (my book is forthcoming from St Martin’s Press in 2022) stem from my passion for conversation about ideas. The intellectual life is the communal life. And who is going to want to have a conversation about ideas if everyone is a jerk?”

How did you become interested in that area?
 

I grew up in a home that nourished curiosity and learning. My father would read to me at night about Plato’s Theory of the Forms. My mother had my younger brothers and I learning Greek and Latin at an early age through flash cards and other curricula. I couldn’t help but love classical history and philosophy! My mother and father always encouraged us to probe deeper into questions related to the human condition. Who are we? Why are we here? What is the best way to live? It’s now my pleasure and passion to bring other people into conversations like that, ones that provoke us reflect on ourselves and our place in the cosmos. I love these themes, and to introduce them to thinkers and books that can help them think more intensely about them. 

What’s the most important concept or idea that you teach people?

I teach people that the intellectual life is the best life, and that the life of the mind for everyone. We need community and to engage our minds to lead meaningful lives and to become fully human. That is what we try to do at Civic Renaissance—to de-institutionalize and democratize ideas and learning. 

What do you think is the most important piece of practical advice that we can derive from your work?

Take the risk of making a new friend, and make the sacrifice to keep old ones. I try to show people the high promise of conversation and community. Community and friendship are often hard, and they take work! We’re naturally selfish and it’s sometimes difficult to overcome our egoist nature for the sake of others. We’re also risk adverse—and social scientists have found that social rejection affects the brain in ways similar to physical pain. But we live in an increasingly atomized and lonely world where we are simultaneously more connected digitally, but still isolated emotionally. Community has never been more needed and important. But they’ve also never been more possible! The pandemic has undoubtedly exacerbated these challenges, yet. But it’s never been easier to cultivate a passion or hobby and then find others who care about the same things.

Do you have a favorite quote that you use? 

I love this quote from Samuel Johnson, as quoted by Boswell’s biography, of the importance of learning for learning’s sake—and indicts our modern educational culture that takes so much joy and curiosity out of education today. “What we read with inclination makes a much stronger impression. If we read without inclination, half the mind is employed in fixing the attention; so there is but one half to be employed on what we read.”
What advice would you give someone who wanted to learn more about what you do?

Subscribe to Civic Renaissance, and join the conversation with people around the world who love ideas and learning,

Suppose you were able to give a talk or workshop at the original location of Plato’s Academy, in Athens.  How would you feel about that and what topics would you cover?

No words adequately capture how much joy the idea of reviving Plato’s Academy gives me. I would LOVE to lead a conversation or workshop on the basics of Plato’s thought—what questions did he ask about the nature of love, justice, death? Why do they matter today? Or, imagine a group of us sitting at the academy reading the Symposium or Phaedo together, right where it very well may have been originally written 2300 years ago? Or reading through Aristophanes’ Clouds that recounts the original accusations against Socrates? 

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