13 – Empathy > Political Division [Let’s Talk About It]

     This is not my usual kind of post, but I guess there’s a first time for everything… 

     Prior last weekend, I relatively kept quiet about my political views. Inevitably, there where a few times I expressed my opinions and stuck by them (like I still do now) – but I like to see myself as someone who listens to everyone and tries to understand their perspective, rather than instantly labelling them as nagħaġ għomja and injoranti (Blind Sheep and Ignorant People for the non-Maltese speakers).

     Without a doubt, this has been one of the most controversial campaigns Malta has witnessed – after a snap election came out of the blue, the electorate had to choose who could lead the party between practically one of two parties in a span of 32 days (they are respectively called Majority and Minority for this post). The Majority won the General Election for the second consecutive time: and surprisingly, by another landslide of around 34,000 votes!

     Siding with the Minority, the result shook me: particularly because differently to what I thought, the race was not a close call at all! It left me emotionally drained throughout the whole day – and together with the loud celebrations following the result announcement, it definitely did not help me revise or an exam the next day. I couldn’t understand how this happened: how the Majority couldn’t see the things the same way I and several others saw them. Are we stupid? Are we ignorant? Should we be humiliated for being in the Minority? Does this make our reasoning to being in this position any less valid?  

I expressed my shock on Facebook and people who voted for the Majority didn’t hold back from commenting (as it is their right to do so). This included one of my good friends: who like me was a first time voter but unlike most people, he was not biased or affiliated with any party: he solely weighed out the pros and cons of the two sides and voted accordingly. After commenting and replying back to others perceiving the political situation differently, I spoke to him, telling him I hope we’re on good terms despite not agreeing, to which he replied:

Of course, why would you think otherwise?

     Feeling slightly relieved, I went on expressing myself: telling him about how I felt disheartened at how some Majority supporters were humiliating the Minority after a second landslide win; how I took this loss badly, and how I didn’t want to lose our friendship. The next 30 minutes were spent talking politics in spite of the different lenses we might be wearing. We disagreed on some aspects, but we also agreed that both Majority and Minority are wrong in others. I did not disregard his views, and he didn’t humiliate mine. I allowed him to vent out as much as he gave me permission to express my concerns about the country’s future: and we both shared valid points. Towards the end of the conversation, he thanked me for allowing him to discuss such a thing with me, as he hadn’t had the chance to do so with any of his friends. 

    This lifted a weight off my shoulder, and made me feel a bit more hopeful about people. I rarely see individuals of different opinions discuss such issues as delicate as politics in a civilised manner: unfortunately colourful words like Chicken and Giddieba (liars) and Falluti (failures) are still used by people when someone disagrees completely with them. But the conversation didn’t include any of this vocabulary. We didn’t offend the opposing political leaders despite opposing values, and we didn’t even dare dismiss each other’s opinion or cut each other’s statement off. Instead, we both took a step back, and tried to understand each other’s point of view without making our responses feel any less invalid. 

  At the end of the day, we all end up living together: if not on the same island, on the same planet – and in this apparent hell we live in, we need each other more than ever! Everyone voted according to what they thought was best: and Democracy requires to respect the electorate result, whether it is something one likes or is disgusted by. It’s time for people to reach out for their friends who might see things from the other side, and acknowledge their feelings about this election, no matter what they are, even if you can’t fully understand why they’re feeling so. And I first step back and apologise to anyone who I might have hurt through expressing my opinion negatively, or through disregarding their own. It’s also time that both winning and losing politicians seek out to those who might not disagree with them: the only way I believe that a country can truly unite is through talking and understanding the people’s concerns and viewpoints, and feeling comfortable at first hand (I know it’s muuuch easier said than done, but I doubt it’s impossible).

     Elections come and go, and even though one might consider the two consecutive losses suffered by the Minority as tragic, there’s nothing worse than losing a friendship after not adequately listening to their opinion well, and not putting oneself in their shoes. And to the friend I had the conversation with: thank you for restoring a bit of my faith in humanity – you are a friend to keep!


3 – The Wrong Side of Empathy [a poem]

I had a go at trying on your shoes to get a grasp
of your ways in managing to walk through life –
to gain a better insight into your perceptions, your feelings,
your methods of dealing with everything being thrown at you.

Now I’m learning that my feet continue to blister
since I became stuck in these shoes I’m growing out of
as they make my knees faint – yet I choose not to remove them.
My heart has been hooked to these shoe laces which I tied so forcefully
around my ankles and they make me tumble in useless worry for you.
Yet I still long to jump in pools of rain, grind through slime and mud,
crawl through weeds and thorns and climb rocky landslides
for the person you no longer are.

These knots which stifle my lower limbs have now shrunk
and it’s almost too futile to undo their strength and I’m struggling to let go.
But slowly they are loosening themselves, and so is my heart
as it remembers what it feels like to slip into a pair which fits me;
which suits me; which doesn’t weaken my knees nor bruise my feet
as I get through this rocky pathway life is unfolding ahead of me.

It’s now that I realise I should’ve never lost myself in your shoes
when you don’t even think about stopping for a second to seek mine.
It’s time to throw away the burdened closet of clogs
belonging to strangers I no longer talk to
and burn the sneakers and boots which others gave me
just because they ran out style – well I ran out of patience!

I shall kindly return your pair to your cobbler friends – ­
they’re full of holes and tatters and I have finally accepted
I cannot repair holes and tatters of those I once called mine.

I will ground myself firmly using my own two bare feet
amidst the presence of burnt skin and scarred toes
and allow earth’s soil to heal the wounds I’m unable to cure.
Let clouds of rain pour down to nourish my senses,
let bricks and stones trip me over and make me fall
I will finally let my hands to pick myself up and stand tall
by myself! For myself!