Opinion: Finding Meaning


The Art of Speaking Kindly

The Beautiful Wife and I are enjoying the last days of spring in Midway, Utah. Midway’s a mountain hamlet settled by her Swiss ancestors who managed to grow enough food in the short summers to last through winter. In my mind, Midway’s somewhere between Garrison Keeler’s “Lake Woebegone,” and Laura Wilder’s “Little House on the Prairie.” Spring comes late here but the peonies are blooming and the roses are budding.

In the beginning, Midway was a farming community of modest prosperity, a result of the short growing season at this latitude and elevation. The humbleness of their lives required them to work together, enabling a close sense of community and an abiding spirituality. People married their neighbors and reared big families so after a few generations most everyone in town was some kind of a cousin. The Beautiful Wife discovers an unknown cousin every few days. One result was you had to be careful about speaking badly of another person. Offending one person might offend a clan so people learned the art of speaking kindly. Here’s an example. 

A few years ago, I mentioned to a local I was getting my car brakes done at a certain place. He offered that a competing business also did brakes. I didn’t get the drift of his comment and got my work done as planned. A while later I had to make a quick stop in traffic and couldn’t. Banged up the Beautiful Wife’s car. Turned out my brake shop used the wrong brake lining; they’ve since gone out of business. In a place where the art of speaking kindly prevails, warnings are subtle.

Laguna was much the same in the beginning. Consider how the town came together to convert the town pavilion into the first art gallery, which led to our art museum and art festivals. As artist Frank Cuprien described it, “We fixed up the ramshackle Pavilion with the assistance of (businessman) Nick Isch. We drove the bats out… and built a skylight in the roof. We whitewashed the walls and oiled the floors… Everyone worked like Trojans.”

Another example was the first village entrance when Coast Highway was built in 1926. That entrance, the triangular park at Cliff Drive and Coast Highway, was a community project led by the Garden Club that involved every group in our nascent town. Working together is more productive than shouting at each other.

A Laguna leader recently asked what visitors might think of Laguna if they attended a town meeting or read the angry letters to our “Indy.” We’re having an argument about how the town should be developed that pits businessmen against concerned residents. To make their point people who should be friends have turned to shouting.

Laguna’s churches could play a leadership role here, but we need to learn how to find common cause and work together for a better Laguna. It begins with recovering the art of speaking kindly. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip.  He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.”  Email:  [email protected]

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