The Season of Incivility
I went kayaking last Sunday with a group of schoolteachers from Pasadena who were spending a week in Laguna for their annual mindfulness retreat. I thought it was cool that they were practicing mindfulness. Cooler still that they were teaching it. I asked about their biggest challenge as teachers. They said it was managing the ever-increasing anxiety of their students.
The renowned Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh has written extensively on mindfulness with some lovely tomes such as “How to Eat,” “How to Sit,” and “How to Walk.” But we’re writing the book on “How to Paddle.” It’s easeful, and a metaphor for how to go through life, slicing through the water silently, in the absolute moment, with senses keyed to colors, smells, tastes, sounds, and physical sensations fostered by the sea. It’s a big reason I live here, and I’m keen to share it with others.
We are all feeling the stresses of the modern world. It has divided our nation perhaps beyond repair. Decorum and decency have fallen by the wayside as people get angrier, more desperate, and prone to violence. Here are some recent examples:
The day after my paddle I was at the DMV in San Clemente, and it was crowded. When we finally made it to the initial help desk, the clerk was clearly agitated. We were exceedingly polite and caring, and he appreciated it. He told us how besieged he felt by rude people, and that he feared for his safety. He wished he could keep a gun at his desk (unlike schoolteachers, he can’t), but he kept pepper spray and felt it was only a matter of time before he used it.
Well, that really took the fun out of being at the DMV!
Then there’s our lovely social media. If you think Laguna is a laid-back, blissful place, NextDoor will dispel all notions. It was conceived as a helpful website for community referrals, its very name implying neighborliness. But it’s the dark underbelly in our town, where people troll, name call, and threaten violence. What in the world could cause so much pain and anger over largely inconsequential issues when there are 40 million Americans living in poverty?
On Facebook there are several Laguna groups, and much of the postings are what you’d hope to see: sunsets. But every now and again there’s an issue where hate rears its despicable head, like when those two panga boats from Mexico washed ashore in Crystal Cove. The comments on these sites were deplorable, many voicing hope that the inhabitants all perished. And that’s putting it nicely.
To make matters worse, summer dropped last week, that annual time when the water warms, the crowds form and tempers flare. It’s when the Haves (residents), the Have-Nothings (homeless), and the Haves-Occasionally (visitors) converge through our gilded gates for a class throw down.
Will South Laguna once again seethe over the trash-spewing, lawn-defecating, juvenile philistines in search of summer fun? Will an unsuspecting European tourist get excoriated and fined for smoking a cigarette in public? Will an entitled Tesla owner engage Ludicrous mode to bypass a backup on Laguna Canyon Road, putting us all at risk? Will the neo Nazis show up or a group of kids engage in racial hijinks?
While the Have Nothings struggle with survival, us Haves get addled sharing our limited roads, parking, sand, views, waves, and restaurants. And we don’t want our streets fouled by unsavory Have Nothings, some of who suffer from mental illness and Tourette’s. Many Haves don’t see them as humans, and want to banish all of them from the Kingdom.
And finally, to make matters really insufferable, it’s an election year, which promises to polarize our town even more with angry rhetoric, name calling, and dirt digging. Buckle your chinstraps.
What kind of people had we become, I wondered. “Give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses,” says the Statue of Liberty. Unless of course, they are black, brown or Muslim. Then just give us your children.
What to do? How to heal and come together, short of an existential crisis, catastrophe, or culling of the human race?
With all due respect to Burt Bacharach and Hal David, what the world needs now, besides love, is a spiritual practice. If we just slow down and take a moment to focus our awareness on the present moment, engage our wondrous senses and breathe, we will be present for the magic of being alive and the sanctity of all living beings. And when you begin, just ask yourself four questions: “Who am I? What’s my purpose? How can I serve (and make a difference on the planet)? What am I grateful for?” The answers may not reveal themselves immediately, but you will plant them in your subconscious and over time they will come.
And then, next time you are on NextDoor, you may defuse the hate debate by invoking the simple philosophy of Fred Rogers and ask, “Won’t you be my neighbor?”
Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” on Thursday at 8 p.m. on KX 93.5, and can be reached at [email protected]