A tribalism of fear

“Who among us … has wept for the deaths of these brothers and sisters?

Who has wept for the people who were on the boat?

For the young mothers carrying their babies?

For these men who wanted something to support their families?

We are a society that has forgotten the experience of weeping, of “suffering with” [com-passion].

The globalization of indifference has taken from us the ability to weep!

(Pope Francis, Liturgy of Forgiveness, Lampedusa, July 8, 2013)

It is eerily disturbing and profoundly shameful that these evocative words of Pope Francis, uttered merely a few hours before the crisis of irregular immigrants on our own shores would so dramatically fall on deaf ears, on blind eyes, on cold hearts in these Islands of ours that for centuries have called themselves “Christian”. The hate speech on social networks and on newspaper comment boards reveals that we are a people who, in losing the ability to be compassionate, to “suffer with” others, also risk losing our humanity.

These signs of moral and cultural decline inevitably raise the question:

Is this the Malta we want to live in? Is this the legacy we want to leave our children?

As a member of the think-tank Converse, throughout 2012 I participated in a series of conversations with fellow citizens from different walks of life where we pondered the same question “What kind of society do we want to live in?” As in these past few hours dark colours of the Maltese “character” have re-emerged, that question is not only more pertinent than ever, but my answer more resolute than ever.

I do not want to live in a society of greed, self-interest and opportunism.

I do not want to live in a society marked by coldness of heart.

I do not want to live in a society that makes a mockery of the “civil”, the “social”, the truly “human”.

Through our words we reveal that we are caught up in a tribalism of fear. We are afraid of the “other”—whoever the other might be… including those marked as “other” in our midst—because we are afraid of our own insignificance. Yet we make ourselves insignificant when we do not recognize that true human grandeur is a matter of character, of dignity, of spirit, not of wealth or vacuous power. True authority comes from one’s soul not from ostentatious displays of (pseudo)dominance. On the contrary, I want to live in a society that is just because its citizens are responsible, and therefore truly heroic because they have the courage to walk in another’s shoes. I want to live in a society that is generous because its citizens are confident in their own skin, in their abilities, in their potential.

I want to live in a society that is truly at peace, because our hearts are rooted in a common quest for what is truly meaningful.

I want to live in a society that re-discovers the art of conversation, of truly “living with”, of “keeping company with”—the only way we can “work with” to build a future for all.

What kind of society do “you” want to live in?

One thought on “A tribalism of fear

  • Reply Catholic facing east 12th July 2013 at 12:44 am

    There is a fine line between “compassion” (which is of course, good) & “passion” (not so good, as understood by the Christian East).

    Generally speaking, it is a lack of humility that turns a compassionate heart into one that is “ruled” by the passions.

    Before I say anything else, I’m going to temper thoughts with a few lines from the ancient liturgy of the East:

    O Lord God,
    who in your most holy power
    sustain the universe,
    be patient with us:
    do not be angry at our wicked deeds
    but take away our guilt;
    remember your compassion and mercy
    and in your goodness come to our aid.
    In your grace
    grant that what remains of this day
    we may be untouched by the scheming of the evil
    and that we may live our lives in safety;
    free from every snare,
    through the grace of your Holy Spirit.

    Through the grace and mercy
    of your only-begotten Son,
    to whom with you and your most holy,
    gracious and life-giving Spirit
    be blessing
    now and forever,
    to the ages of ages. Amen.

    (Sunset Vespers: KALLISTOS W., Praying with the Orthodox Tradition, St Vladimir Seminary Press, p.5 ).

    Where was I? Ah yes. The new EU Directive on Trafficking Human Beings:


    It is said that in the Eschaton, when God reveals himself to mankind as he really is, passion will fall from the tree like fruit at its appointed time.

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