Our potential for kindness is almost unlimited. This, I know for a fact. Malta ħanina ħobża u sardina is not based in fiction but in the reality of a hundred and one tangible gestures.
Gestures that are now mostly historic. The news this year has been particularly dismaying. Sad chart-toppers include:
- Multiple videos of fights spurred on by road rage circulating on WhatsApp
- A number of physical assaults, mostly on third country nationals. Yes, I hate that phrase too but it’s the only way you’ll get exactly what I mean.
- Low-key bullying episodes mostly through Facebook pages with names like Immigranti Barra.
- Not so low-key bullying by teen gangs running riot.
- Assaults on members of vulnerable communities perceived as ‘mhux minn tagħna’ (not our kind of people).
These past few years have not been our finest hour. And yet. Malta still has an infinite capacity for kindness. I see this in the way dozens of swimmers rushed to help the poor Albanian man who earlier this week dived off St Peter’s Pool and didn’t resurface. In today’s world this isn’t something to take for granted.
I’ve seen people in other countries blithely walk past a fellow human in obvious difficulties. Or worse, just putting up a live Instagram of whatever’s happening. In Malta, our first instinct is to rush and help. Granted, there were those who filmed the entire thing, but they were literally on the opposite side of the bay and couldn’t really have done much.
I see this in the way every single charity drive outdoes the previous effort. Sure, there’s a touch of smug ‘watch me doing my good deed’ to it, but then again we’re only human. And I see it in the way that I’ve witnessed the most committed of racists backtrack when faced by an actual individual who needs their help, rather than a faceless boatload of people whose lives aren’t ‘real’ enough to matter.
No, Malta hasn’t quite lost its capacity for kindness. Which is why I get triply pissed off when I witness casual cruelty. It’s almost like we keep daring ourselves to behave badly. Like our instincts know better but we are trying to override them.
And we have stopped considering the consequences. That reporting a bus driver for stopping to buy a pastizz can mean getting him fired. That beating up a delivery person and stealing their bike is not the ‘folly of youth’ but the result of the culture of cruelty we have fostered. That the terrible misogyny that floods Facebook every time a domestic abuse case hits the news is not funny, but is shaping the beliefs of a 100 wannabe mini Andrew Tates.
We have become so desensitized that we stopped caring about anything not close enough to make our humanity kick in.
No, Malta hasn’t lost its capacity for kindness. Yet. But if we keep fucking up often enough we may soon reach the point of no return.