I am a firm believer in the power and relevance of the unspoken narrative. In many situations, I find myself listening for the volumes of experience that people do not put words to. The hidden intentions behind every action; the buried emotion in every story; the stark reality we choose to ignore as we go about our daily lives. Call me crazy (perhaps you would not be very wrong), but my experience has taught me that as human beings, we often put words to the realities that we aspire to be living, the ones that we wish other people to know about. Let us all take a second to admit to ourselves that the proverbial sunshine is only part of the picture. As individuals we do not talk about the darkness, the ugliness and the decay in our lives. As nations, we refuse to speak about the darkest part of our contexts, our countries.
It shocks me to my core that twenty days into industrial action by social workers, we continue to ignore the situation and pretend that nothing is happening. It is uncanny; not a peep in our media, nothing from our leaders, nor from civil society. Aside from the odd newspaper article reporting the action, or Facebook post shared, it has been nothing but stony silence. I am just going to take a moment to let you know that I am not, in fact, a social worker, but I am someone who values their work immensely.
As individuals we do not talk about the darkness, the ugliness and the decay in our lives
We have come face-to-face with the tragic, unthinkable death of a vulnerable child, living in a vulnerable situation, and discourse has been dominated by the quintessential, ‘blame-game’. We talk of building skyscrapers when faced with the very stark reality that there are those among us who are living in garages and cars because they cannot afford to rent a place. Has none of this reached your ears? Then I urge you to please look it up. I can assure you that our social workers can speak volumes about these injustices and could share countless experiences about the dark reality we are living in. We continue to talk about the success of the Kappara bypass, as well as corruption, and the economy, all the while hoping that the unsaid will go away quietly and that we won’t have to face the failure humanity in our society. There has been much talk about the rule of law, but very little about humanity, about justice. It is my very humble belief that a collective that does not strive to protect the vulnerable, loses its right to call itself ‘society’. I wonder what we can call ourselves.
For those of us who pride ourselves on our Maltese hospitality, and who enjoy sharing countless articles about the Maltese being the one most generous population in the world (trust me, I love it too), this reality comes as a shock. Or perhaps it does not, but it should. I read something this week that keeps ringing in my ears. In his book, Pursuing Justice, Wytsma (2013) states, “When we understand the depth of justice, it has to go beyond compassion or charity delivered to distant places. Rather, it has to restructure the way we see the world, including that which is close to home, and therefore, sometimes harder to see.” Our social workers do just that. Day in, day out, they face the darkest, most vulnerable parts of our society and they strive to bring light and air into these places. It is a profession that requires an immense strength and resilience, and is not for the fainthearted.
A collective that does not strive to protect the vulnerable, loses its right to call itself ‘society’
The rest of us may not be equipped to do the work that social workers do. We are accountants, business owners, stay-at-home mums, economists, doctors, nurses, teachers, clerks, and construction workers. The list goes on. How can we contribute towards making the unspoken heard? The place to start would be to open our eyes and start becoming aware of what is going on around us. To open our ears to hear what is being quietly whispered. To open our hearts, not just our pockets, to those who are suffering around us. If this is the first time you are hearing about the strike, about the state of poverty in Malta, there is a problem. The next step? I would fall back on the wise words of Eleanor Roosevelt (1963), who stated,
Our trouble is that we do not demand enough of the people who represent us. We are responsible for their activities. . . . we must spur them to more imagination and enterprise in making a push into the unknown; we must make clear that we intend to have responsible and courageous leadership.
We may not be equipped to be the hands that reach out to the vulnerable, but we all have a voice to use. Let us demand justice from our leaders, remembering that they represent us, the people. My hope is that we take a moment to notice the words that are NOT being fed to us, to recognise the crises that are plaguing our society and to unite our voices and remind ourselves that we are human, and not simply donors. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”