Cage the Rage
“Tolerance is about the pursuit of truth—about being able to see the value of another person’s perspective or truth. It’s an acknowledgement of differences, dissent and disagreement—and a choice to coexist peacefully despite our differences, rather than destroy them or each other.”
I’ve been thinking about what it is to be a community in the age of virtual connectivity and human isolation. Without the deep interpersonal work required to be an intentional group of loving, conscious cohabitants, we are just a congregation of individuals who randomly come together because of external factors, like family, job, or lifestyle. As a result, we don’t celebrate traditions and the wisdom of elders because, well, we don’t have any. And we are thus without a shared, collective ethos to guide us. So, government is really just a contract to provide services, safety, and an organizational structure for people living in proximity. But not a contract for community.
Perhaps this is a flaw in the American fabric of life, when the pursuit of personal freedom or reward—be it opportunity or lifestyle—causes us to uproot and leave our families and traditions behind. So, it is to be a Californian. Because with the exception of the native peoples, we all came here for a better life, frontier women and men, willing to leave the past behind for the promise of a better future, whatever that may be. Those of us who found our way to Laguna Beach enjoy a special kind of better. We are drunk with riches, blessed with incomparable open space and vistas, endless sunshine, stocked shelves, and homes that have made many of us rich beyond measure.
So where is our community, our solidarity? Well, we find it in common interests, like our many nonprofits, arts, sports, and political groups. They often become the focus of our social interactions. But we don’t find community at City Council. No, this is where we go to tear it apart. It’s ironic, because for Native American, indigenous peoples, and many religions throughout the world (like Quakers), council is the very foundation of community. And what keeps it strong is listening deeply, without reaction, without being influenced by long held thoughts or bias. When we listen this way, and the person speaking is able to do so authentically and with an open heart, we can hear their story with compassion, understanding and respect. Even if we don’t agree. That is the essence of community.
Unfortunately, the template at Council is anything but respectful. It’s downright combative and belittling. Public comments often seethe in hostility towards Council, accusing them of incompetence, or worse—corruption. And members of the public are being name called, publicly shamed, and accused of lying and criminal activity.
Up on the dais, we’ve reached a new low in civility, with Council members who interrupt public comments, or get in shouting matches with the audience. It’s not easy to get up there for three minutes with all eyes upon you, including cameras, trying to get your thoughts out cogently, and knowing that you may be interrupted and attacked for your opinion by the audience, or worse—a Council member—all while others on the dais stare passively into space, pretending it’s not happening. Where is the censure to these god awful, cringeworthy diatribes that are clear, unnecessary provocations, not to mention deviations from norms, if not protocol?
It’s abundantly clear in these fractious times that many of us are very, very unhappy. And angry. In the pain body, with unresolved conflicts and no tools or self-awareness to confront them. Our intentions are honorable; we all want a better Laguna. Some want to protect and preserve what they think makes Laguna special, while others want to evolve it with changing times. They are not mutually exclusive, and common ground can be found. But we cannot find solutions in the rage state we are perpetually in. It’s dangerously destructive, disheartening, and fractionalizing our community into warrens of hate, tribalism, and retribution. Not the idyllic Laguna we thought we came for.
Participating in Council should teach us how to let go of personal animus and become fully attentive to others. Native communities infuse their Council with ceremony, respect, wisdom of the ancients, and storytelling. People go to a place where they can listen not only with their minds, but with their hearts as well, and this influences decision making in intuitive ways that bypass conflict.
If only we could hold Council at Main Beach, our most sacred, ceremonial land, form a circle, light a fire, and engage the talking stick, where only one person can speak at a time. Start with some deep breathing and gratitude over our shared good fortune while the waves crash around us. Then drop into our hearts and tell personal stories without fear or judgment. Maybe take a “weather report,” asking each person what’s on their mind and, more importantly, how they are feeling. And listening, devoutly.
By doing so, we get to know the humanity in the people we view as opposition. Then we can go about the business of governing our community with compassion and tolerance. Isn’t that what we signed on for when we were born into this thing called life? To be seen and heard equally, without judgment, but with compassion and tolerance.
We are in the midst of a global struggle for freedom, safety, and perhaps even survival. The only way to see ourselves through it is by acknowledging that we are all interconnected, part of the collective one. And with the strength and resilience of true community, we can thrive, prosper and coexist even when we disagree. It’s why so many of us want parts of downtown converted to pedestrian plazas—so we have public forums to engage one another in thoughtful, face-to-face discourse, not the rancor and obstreperous behavior we engage in from our computer screens, or in the public theatre of Council. Because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who is president, governor, or even who our local representatives are. We’re all on the same team. The human condition, in all its glorious shapes, colors and wondrous diversity.
Billy Fried hosts “Laguna Talks” radio on Thursdays at 8 p.m. on KX93.5. He can be reached at [email protected].