Setting the future straight

Today is Christmas day and the shocking events of the last month will surely feature in the conversations of thousands of festive lunches this year. There will also be disagreements and frustration about them, as emotions are running high.

Everyone would prefer to unwind and enjoy a pleasant meal with family or friends, but the day is not securely wrapped in cotton wool. There is no magic button, hidden beneath the table, to switch reality on and off.

Two days ago, a journalist reporting from the law courts in Valletta noted that the atmosphere felt surreal. Inside the court room the atmosphere was tense, with the most serious accusations of murder and corruption at the heart of government at stake. At the same time, the sound of Christmas carols wafted in from outside.

Today the surreal situation is reversed. We are inside with those Christmas carols, while the sounds of the court room echo outside. The street protests have been halted temporarily, with sacks of coal laid outside ministry doors by activists as a reminder that all is not well.

Events are paused for a day or two, to be continued once the pudding and coffee have been consumed. People comment that is is like waiting to see the next episode of a crime series – only here the murdered victim, her ruthless killers, and the heartbroken bereaved family, are sadly real.

The surreal atmosphere has been building up over several weeks, with the pending resignation of Joseph Muscat under a dark cloud. A leadership contest is unfolding, and the winner will be our new prime minister by the second week of January. In the UK they had to good sense to get their leadership decisions done and dusted before Christmas.

New Year’s Day is generally a time for looking ahead. But Christmas is a time for reflection, for looking inwards into our hearts. And for treasuring those close to the heart, our families and good friends.

At this special time of the year, the Archbishop’s message as spiritual leader is especially relevant. As he met political leaders this year, Mgr Charles Scicluna noted that difficult moments like this must be used to confront reality, even if it is uncomfortable to do so. Besides quality of life, it is crucial that future generations are bequeathed high standards of morality and ethics too. This is our challenge, as we go forward.

He noted that another challenge is to ensure that civility and humanity prevail and the temptation to hate and to be angry is overcome. Difficult experiences such as these can bring out both the best and the worst in all of us – it is up to us, as well as to our political leaders, to react in the best way possible.

The Archbishop is right. To achieve this, however, justice must also be done.

Honest reflection is good. Beyond the law, recent events have clearly shown that the doctrine of apologists who spread the word that “if it is not illegal, then it is ok” is false. It merely provides justification for looking the other way. Distinguishing right from wrong cannot only depend upon the legal system. To stand upright, society must first be guided by its morals and ethics.

A former senior politician, in a previous administration, once spoke to me about a problem. He understood that, although things had seemingly been done within legal parameters, there would still be a political price to pay. He did, eventually, pay that price.

This administration is finally starting to learn that lesson. Over the last few weeks, after extreme resistance, resignations which were long overdue could no longer be avoided. Unfortunately this only happened when the arm of the law drew in close and not, apparently, through truly recognising the parameters of ethical behaviour.

Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge was visited by three spirits on Christmas Eve. The final one was the Ghost of Christmas Future. He was shaken by this experience of looking ahead and seeing where his chosen path would ultimately lead him. The next morning he immediately tried to set his life straight and to make amends.

This year people did not need to wait for Christmas to begin some reflection. Many already began soul-searching weeks ago, trying to understand how the country could have reached this situation, and how they could have been so betrayed.

Like Scrooge, we must change direction. And checks and balances must be put in place to avoid this political situation ever being repeated. For a start, in our system too much power is vested in one person, the prime minister.

Enjoy today with family and friends. It is a day to treasure your loved ones, to be grateful, to be generous, to think, rest and revisit priorities. But tomorrow is a day to take charge of the future, and to set it straight.


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