A very clear choice: either black or white

That there is no end to po­lit­i­cal con­tro­ver­sies is well ac­knowl­edged. It is a na­tional char­ac­ter­is­tic.

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Ifind noth­ing wrong in this, un­less the much touted na­tional good suc­cumbs to parochial and per­sonal in­ter­ests. Un­for­tu­nately, the PL has once again failed to pro­tect the na­tional good and dis­tin­guish be­tween black and white. For al­most four years, Messrs Ed­win Vas­sallo and Peter Mi­callef were barred from par­tic­i­pat­ing in the House, fol­low­ing mis­takes com­mit­ted dur­ing the count­ing process in the last gen­eral elec­tion. The PN was forced to seek re­dress from the Law Courts, and af­ter a hard fought le­gal bat­tle, the Con­sti­tu­tional Court granted two ad­di­tional seats to the Na­tion­al­ist Party.

Here I deal with other black and white is­sues.

Of course, I will not be deal­ing with the more-than-a-cen­tu­ry­old black and white pho­to­graphs of Malta and Gozo, show­ing var­i­ous lo­cal­i­ties, streets or his­tor­i­cal build­ings. Some of the places are be­yond recog­ni­tion.

Nor will I raise the nos­tal­gic sen­sa­tion one gets when a black and white pho­to­graph of a dis­tant family mem­ber co­in­ci­den­tally sur­faces while re-ar­rang­ing the books in the li­brary at home.

I will not deal with the late 1960s BBC TV va­ri­ety pro­gramme The Black and White Min­strels Show which lo­cally at­tracted hun­dreds of viewers. This show did not re­ceive the same pos­i­tive feed­back else­where, to the ex­tent that a cam­paign for racial dis­crim­i­na­tion was launched call­ing for the BBC to re­move the show from its sched­ule. Af­ter 11 years of cam­paign­ing, in 1978 the fi­nal episode was broad­cast. Back then, Malta was still trail­ing be­hind on is­sues of dis­crim­i­na­tion.

But here, I want to give vent to some black on white is­sues; is­sues that should not raise hes­i­ta­tion as th­ese are founded in sound val­ues that our so­ci­ety has em­braced so that ev­ery­one can feel safe and which en­sure that ba­sic rights are pro­tected at all times. To put my cards on the ta­ble, I have been brought up in a black and white en­vi­ron­ment. When I was grow­ing up, colour tele­vi­sion was not avail­able.

Not­with­stand­ing, I have great rec­ol­lec­tions of the days when, like the rest of the children in Vil­lam­brosa Street, Ham­run, we played for hours dur­ing the school sum­mer hol­i­days. In those days, there was lit­tle room for shades of grey and less room for in­ter­pre­ta­tion. As I grew older, I re­alised that dif­fer­ent shades of grey are nec­es­sary and in­evitable. I have learnt through ex­pe­ri­ence the art of com­pro­mise, while hold­ing on tight to my core val­ues and prin­ci­ples. Th­ese are a no-go area.

I write be­cause suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments, and rightly so, have ad­vo­cated for and in­tro­duced a wide range of rights to so­ci­ety at large. But un­for­tu­nately, dif­fer­ent ad­min­is­tra­tions have failed to ad­e­quately in­form so­ci­ety what such rights bring with them.

School cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment has long been abol­ished. Back then, teach­ers were al­lowed to give pupils a few good smacks with a wooden ruler. I have to ad­mit I had my fair share. I still have vivid rec­ol­lec­tions of a cor­pu­lent fe­male teacher at the Ham­run Pri­mary Boys School. She used to scare me to death with her stern looks. God bless her soul. Quite of­ten, she used to meet my par­ents. They were of­ten in touch de­spite the fact that mo­bile phones and other means of elec­tronic com­mu­ni­ca­tion were not avail­able. To put you in the pic­ture back then, per­sons found in pos­ses­sion of a walki­etalkie were ar­rested and ques­tioned at the po­lice head­quar­ters.

By no means am I ad­vo­cat­ing the re-in­tro­duc­tion of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment in schools, but in­stead I am so­lic­it­ing for a con­tin­u­ous na­tional cam­paign to re­in­force the fact that there are no rights with­out du­ties. And the higher the re­spon­si­bil­ity one car­ries, the higher ac­count­abil­ity is ex­pected. Re­spect is not sub­mis­sive­ness and author­ity does not com­mand blind obe­di­ence. In­di­vid­u­als and pol­icy-mak­ers can, how­ever, make a dif­fer­ence.

How they man­age change, how they nur­ture peo­ple’s de­vel­op­ment and how they fa­cil­i­tate progress en­ables so­ci­ety to, wher­ever pos­si­ble, own the changes. In­di­vid­u­als can con­trib­ute to form bet­ter a so­ci­ety, but more im­por­tantly per­haps in to­day’s con­text, in­di­vid­u­als can help shape a bet­ter, fairer and more in­clu­sive so­ci­ety.

Par­ents, ed­u­ca­tors, the me­dia and not least politi­cians should use the pen and the mi­cro­phone to fos­ter greater re­spect to­wards the na­tional good. The na­tional good is supreme. Rights and val­ues should not be con­founded.

How’s that for starters.

The Malta In­de­pen­dent Tues­day 29 Novem­ber 2016

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