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By Councilmember Chris Duncan
Our natural instinct in these times is to find like-minded souls to take us in, assuage our self-doubt, and tell us the “other side” is the source of our inner turmoil.
In coffee meetings, YouTube chats, and Facebook groups, the urge is strong to sort ourselves into competing factions, all bent on protecting “us” from “them” by denigrating those who see things differently.
Fear and frustration manifest as grievance against a mythical “they” who have gained from our side’s loss. Like a drowning swimmer off Lost Winds, we pull each other under to save ourselves.
This animosity, while comforting in the short run, is not the answer. We San Clemente residents will not, and should not, agree on everything. Vigorous debate results in a better functioning democracy, because the best ideas will withstand the toughest scrutiny.
But while we may disagree with our fellow citizens on the issues, we must not assign them evil intent. That is easier said than done, especially right now. National news outlets and social media companies, which profit off our divisions, tell us the stories we want to hear, not those we need to hear, and relentlessly demonize the “opposition.”
Your neighbor is not your enemy, but it is easy to believe he or she is. I know, because I am as susceptible to making rash personal judgments as the next person. It feels soothing for an instant to vilify someone who thinks differently, or worse, label them a bad person. But personal attacks only make us feel more bitter and alone, and in the long run, corrode our public discourse.
It doesn’t have to be this way. Each of us is responsible for changing the narrative. Our future generations are counting on us to make decisions today that will enhance our city’s prospects, not drive a wedge through it.
If we acknowledge that our own insecurities are often the source of our unease, we can avoid trying to find faults in others to make ourselves feel better. Through this acceptance, we can lift the invisible walls that separate us and come together to achieve the goals we share.
I believe we are in a unique position to make this happen. As tragic as COVID-19 has been, it has forced us to unify around beneficial practices we previously overlooked, like dining outdoors, enjoying our beautiful environment, and being more present for our kids.
As we emerge together from the pandemic, having defeated the virus and preserved our way of life through our collective diligence and mutual goodwill, we have an unprecedented opportunity to leverage this unity to tackle other challenges that seemed out of reach.
Stopping the toll road, saving our beaches, ending homelessness in town. These are all possible if we direct our energy toward solving the problem instead of endlessly critiquing fellow problem-solvers.
But this opportunity is fleeting. If we do not act now, it will pass us by. And a year from now, when things are back to normal, we may forget what is possible if we act in unison.
San Clemente is an extraordinary town, but I am convinced our best days are ahead of us. It is up to each and every one of us, including the five us on the city council, to release the baggage of contempt and blame, appeal to the better angels of our nature, and replace character smears with substantive, fact-driven discussion. Only then will our Spanish Village reach its full potential.
Chris Duncan is a councilmember who was elected in 2020.