Some coping strategies for a very confused Malta
Never have I felt a bigger need to ‘do something’, than in these last few weeks since the horrible assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. I’ve been struggling quite heavily with the state of the country for the last few months, frustrated particularly with our national fear of open criticism and real public debate about the things holding us backward.
I work within the arts sector, one that is traditionally rebellious, free thinking, a leader in successfully pushing for change. Yet I’m frustrated with the close ties art has to the public sector where the vast majority of artists in Malta somehow depend on the government for their daily bread. Any activism within the arts comes at great personal courage and the knowledge that you will be seen and treated like a traitor by the institution you work for and all its networks. We expect people to be chastised for questioning, for speaking out, for challenging the status quo, and they often are. Caring for jobs became the holy grail of artists grateful for being able to live off their craft, never mind selling their soul in return.
I expect that the situation is similar in other sectors given that this country is so tiny that everyone knows everyone and we tend to react to opinions voiced in public with attacks on the person voicing them rather than on the arguments put forward.
The pattern often goes like this: person writes article / makes public comment.
If person is foreign we tell them to go back to their country since if they chose to come to Malta, they must now love all its flaws and not in any circumstances talk about them or try to change them.
If person is local, we accuse them of being pl or pn supporters, because of course affiliation with a party immediately invalidates the person’s capacity to think freely. They are now simply puppets furthering the party agenda, unable to make their own personal judgement on any issue. And don’t get me wrong, many are just that.
As humans, we want to belong. We can sense the strength of the group and the protection being part of a crowd affords. We want to be part of something bigger than us.
Here in Malta we cling to our clans with fervour. Families, band clubs, festas, the church, political parties. We’re used to public shows of unity and standing up for those within the clan without question. Upset one of ours and our inner mama bear pounces. Never mind what we think about the argument.
The thing is though, many of us are feeling the cracks in this process and struggling with them. We’re looking around for our clan, for our people, our leaders, our heroes and there are none. We long for a virtuous strong leader to get us out of this mess, we long for impartial orators who can help us make sense of the mud we’re living in, yet we reject everyone who dares enter the field. And many times for seemingly good reason. Dig for 5 minutes and find a scandal. A political affiliation, a link with ‘the enemy’, a history of lack of honesty, a public flop, flaws big and apparent that take centre stage and invalidate every argument.
Suddenly there are no heroes to look up to. No person we can hand over our thinking capacities to and get on with our crazy busy lives. Everyone is a shade of grey. Some darker than others but none without a tint of some kind.
We feel we’re doomed.
How can we cope?
To be honest my most automatic reaction is to shut it all out. I can’t cope with the contradictions, I feel like I can’t possibly trust anyone and I know that everything I say or do is being watched by a mob ready to point out my flaws and motivations. And of course everything gets recorded in the little black book that will at some point come out to haunt me. The easiest thing to do is to sit at home and avoid the news. It’s all fake anyway and we’re all doomed. Or destined for glory, depending on your viewpoint.
Yet there’s a bubbling inside me that I cannot shut out. A frustration, an itch I can’t reach. A mountain of naivety that refuses to budge. A sense of possibility that keeps singing resolutely. And every day I see signs of other people who hear the same song. I see people following their values despite the difficulty, I see people being brave and truthful even when attacked, I see that every shade of grey is made up of white and black in varying degrees and I cannot ignore the good things that are inside the mayhem. Which of course brings me to a state to confusion over which direction I’m supposed to be throwing rotten tomatoes at.
The following are some strategies that seem to help the situation:
Sticking with discomfort.
When frustration bubbles, breathing and giving yourself time to feel out your own biases to the situation rather than running off. Some things are so entrenched they need serious effort to overcome. Like our national resistance to activism. Our inability to protest. Our need to discredit the speaker before the argument. What if we choose to act differently? What would that feel like?
Building open, inclusive communities.
We’re at a place where our sense of belonging feels homeless. We see serious cracks in practically every organisation. We see and feel more struggle in doing the things that we took fore granted a few years ago. Like drive to work. Or be able to afford a house whether rented or bought. Or be able to make a living out of things that don’t make us feel dead inside. This is a time to stick together. This is a time to collaborate, this is a time to have conversations over how we want to live and work on making that happen. This is a time to come outside of our work-home comfort zone to do the things that feel important to us. To examine what strategies help us live better, help us be more ourselves, help us engage with those around us to be able to see what resources we have available and make better use of them between us. How we can better support each other. How we can give our sense of belonging a meaningful home. This is a time to get off our phones and hang out in the streets more. This is a time to fully support good initiatives, even if we feel we’re different from the people who started them. By joining and participating we can create something better.
Embracing not knowing.
Let’s face it, we’re in crisis. Our water resources are dwindling as is our ability to produce local food. Our economy is based on dubious practices, many of which rape the little resources we have available at the fastest pace possible with zero thought about long term consequences. We’re losing our ability to provide affordable housing for ourselves. Our institutions are dinosaurs that have no idea how to cope with the fast changing pace of things. Our politics are tribal and all over the place. Our law enforcement is a joke. Let’s all accept that things are not pretty at the moment and that we mostly don’t have solutions. Or at least not the fast simple ones we all crave. They are just not there. The more we get comfortable with not knowing, the more we can openly speak about things as they are rather than feel the need to sugar coat them because we’re afraid of admitting we don’t have a solid plan. Guess what? No one does. The whole world is in the same boat and we’re all trying to swim through murky waters. Mostly obstinately pretending we can see the way or worse still not realising that our navigation tools are just mirrors looking backwards that are absolutely no use now. Let’s all accept that we have no idea where we’re going even if we can feel that things can and should be different, better.
Rather than throw things at whoever dares speak out, let’s listen and engage truthfully. Let’s give each other our ears. Let’s lend each other the platforms we’ve built to make ourselves heard. Let’s build a culture that encourages people to speak out truthfully. Let’s create space for that in every place we have an influence on whether it’s at home, school, work, social media, public life. We must have patience. People need time and encouragement to find their voice, sometimes we will be met with silence, sometimes with confused voices. Let’s leave space for that anyway and have conversations that help focus, question, improve our arguments. Let’s collaborate publicly together. Let’s train ourselves in the art of accepting criticism publicly, of making criticism publicly, of separating the idea from the person and accepting that ideas change, transform, expand, contract and migrate to unexpected lands. Let’s challenge each other to bring out our best.
Taking time out.
These are testing times and we need our wits on. The solutions we need are multifaceted, systems oriented, needing overviews and big picture approaches. We need to find ways to drop the barriers to collaboration and connection. The more we exhaust ourselves in the hamster wheel, the less we can work together to build a new solar powered structure that runs without the need for us to spend all our time struggling with it. Walk, read, stare, do nothing. Be resolute in your decision to make space for yourself. Identify the practices that slow time down for you and be ruthless in making sure you make time for them. Play, dance, sing, paint, sleep by the sea in the sun, do the things that make you feel alive, for this is the most important thing you came here for. The next piece of the puzzle will emerge when you let it.