Opinion: Outside In


Heroes and Villains

By David Weinstein
“Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in a while, or the light won’t come in.” – Alan Alda
I’m on the floor with my six-year-old grandson. We are playing with his Legos. I take one of the small characters and attach it to a Lego car that has plastic flames shooting from its tailpipe. The vehicle is so tricked out it makes the Batmobile look like a 1995 Honda Civic. He reprimands me, “Grandpa, that doesn’t go there. He’s Acronix. He’s a bad guy.” He says this without hesitation or irony. It’s so simple for him. Admittedly, the little plastic guy is dressed like a tiny Darth Vader, but in these times, at least for me, it seems harder and harder to differentiate the good guys from the bad guys.
Last Saturday I attended a workshop put on by an organization called Braver Angels. The objective was to teach folks of all persuasions – conservative, liberal, Republican, Democrat, Independent, the skills needed to engage in civil discourse. This because it seems like all we’ve been doing lately is shouting at each other without really listening, or lobbing invectives at strangers over social media, all full of our righteous indignation.
One of the exercises in the workshop had the moderator sharing a list of conservative and then a counter-list of progressive values. On the conservative side – “Being color-blind is the ideal. Take people as individuals and treat them fairly, judge them based on character, not their skin color.” On the progressive – “Not seeing race means not seeing injustices, unequal opportunities, and more difficult life circumstances that go along with race in America.” I find myself nodding my head in agreement with both points of view. And then I think, “If it were only this simple.” But then no one is dressed up like Darth Vader.
I think back to my earliest days of Hebrew school and the stories of the Old Testament. The Israelites were always fighting the Philistines. The Philistines were clearly the bad guys. However, I wonder how different the stories might be if that rock that David hurled would have been off by six inches? The Philistines would be the ones writing the historical narrative. Who would be the good guys then? And would those Borscht Belt comedians have been telling jokes in Philistinian rather than Yiddish? Which begs an entirely different question – is it Phili“steens” or Phili“stines”?
But these pressing questions aside, how do we tell the heroes from the villains? Certainly, evil still exists, but, I think that currently we’re all a bit too hasty to ascribe bad intentions simply to anyone who disagrees with us. Whether out of fear or bias, we are all too apt to point a finger at anyone with a contrasting idea and characterize them as a bad guy. I’m as guilty as the next person, but I have vowed to open my mind, stop yelling at my television set, and start becoming a better listener. I’m not so naïve to suggest we gather around a campfire, but it might do us all some good if we just listened more intently and honestly to one another.
The composition of residents in popular locations across the country is changing. Laguna Beach is no exception. New residents moving in tend to be wealthier and bring with them different social, economic, and political concerns. This is to be expected where a new owner’s property taxes are often more than the average worker’s annual income. But for a community to thrive, and maintain the qualities that first attracted its residents, it needs to listen to all the varied voices and opinions of the community and take them into account. Good ideas are not partisan. They’re just good ideas. And with the many changes and challenges afoot, we need all the good ideas we can muster.

David gives special thanks to Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys for the title of this week’s column.

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