Opinion: Center Gauche – Laguna Beach Local News
It can be done
By Jean Hastings Ardell
When I last wrote this column some time ago, the topic was trees. One might think that this is a benign topic for a column, but one would be wrong. Longtime Laguna residents understand this – trees and their size being one of the most controversial issues among neighbors in our bucolic seaside town. This was confirmed over coffee with a Conservative friend of mine who had recently become a board member of his homeowners association. Trees, he said, were high on his neighbors’ list of complaints.
It made me think: If we can’t even agree on the trees in this town, what hope is there to find common ground on other issues, like land use, which we teach? to our children, police reform, etc. Two recent releases give me hope. The premiere was an evening my husband Dan and I spent last week in Los Angeles. The occasion was a celebratory dinner for the purchase of a 1904 Craftsman-style home in the MacArthur Park neighborhood. It was the only property on the street that did not belong to the Camino Nuevo Charter Academy (CNCA), a non-profit charter school that helps predominantly Latino neighborhood children overcome obstacles. Started in the late 1990s in a converted mini-mall by an episcopal priest named Philip Lance with the vision of providing high-quality education to an underserved population, the academy currently educates 3,600 students from kindergarten through high school. every year on its eight campuses. In 2018, 70 percent of senior graduates qualified for admission to four-year universities. The celebratory dinner took place at République, a French restaurant with such refined sensibilities that my order for a Diet Coke was refused. They do not serve diet drinks. As I looked around the table at the donors who made this latest purchase possible, I remembered how CNCA was able to make a difference: over the years, its board of directors has attracted Asians, blacks, whites and Latinos, some of whom grew up in downtown LA; Christians, Jews, Buddhists and perhaps a few atheists; gay and straight; The Westside Liberals and Conservative Businessmen. Over the years, the men and women on the board have learned each other’s stories; friendships have been formed that transcend their differences. Why? Because the administrators refuse to lose sight of the common objective: the education of these children. This is why the upcoming debate on how best to use the yellow house will be passionate, creative, and collegial.
Closer to home, last Saturday, I attended a three-hour workshop in Corona del Mar co-hosted by Bleed the Same, the popular band that Dan and I became involved with after George Floyd’s death, and Braver Angels, the national, bipartisan, nonprofit organization that encourages civil discourse on political and religious issues.
The subject: Depolarizing conversations about race. The aim of the workshop was not to change one’s mind but to practice skills that allow people to actually listen to the views of others. Based on comments from both the Conservatives and the Liberals, the workshop was well received. People felt heard. If you’ve read David Weinstein’s column in this issue, you know he attended the workshop as well. I joked with David that we should form a coalition of two to bring a Braver Angels workshop to Laguna i.e. the whole city: city council, police department, school board, Liberate Laguna, Laguna Village, the Laguna Beach Democratic and Republican clubs. But this is no joke. Can you think of another remedy that might calm the rants that have exhausted the civility of our city?
David and I are not alone in this process. In the New York Times last Sunday, other writers offered similar thoughts. Kwame Anthony Appiah responded to a reader who basically asked him, “Should I date someone whose political views I hate?” Appiah’s advice was, I think, wise, “Despite the forces that would keep us socially and even geographically isolated from each other, you each have a reason to try to understand the other tribe.” Democracy falters when we lose interest in trying to make sense of the other’s point of view and trying to persuade that person of our own merits.
And in the Sunday Review, Nicholas Kristof wrote about Daryl Davis, a black musician, who “befriended a member of the KKK, each fascinated by the other. Davis then got to know many other members of the Ku Klux Klan. Kristof quotes psychologist Adam Grant, of the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, who explained why Davis was successful in spreading the racism of the KKK members he met. “You won’t reach people until you earn their trust… you probably won’t earn their trust until you meet them in person and listen to their stories. “
Jean is a Laguna Beach resident member of Third Street Writers.