Monday, 22 November 2010


Mistakes happen all the time. Thousands occur every month, every week, every day...Not all mistakes, however, have the same consequences. In several cases, the damage caused can easily be corrected via a simple procedure. For example, if a name is written incorrectly, it does not take more than a few seconds to rewrite it correctly. There are, on the other hand, many mistakes that create a great deal of damage or harm. Such errors are rarely, if ever, easy to deal with.

If a mistake is defined as an act that should not have taken place, countless acts could come to mind. The cashier who gave back the wrong amount of change to a client, the lawyer who did not provide good advice, the accountant that did not check the accuracy of the amounts shown on certain reports, the surgeon who made an error that killed a patient, the person who murdered another human being following an argument...

I think that every mistake has a two-fold impact. More specifically, a mistake is expected to affect the individual who made it and the person/s that suffered as a consequence of the error. Needless to say, the greater the mistake, the more worrying the effects.

One thing that perplexes and even disturbs me is the way that most societies react to people who make certain mistakes. Although it is frequently said that to err is human and even though new studies keep shedding more light about the fallibility of human beings, many societies react to several errors in a totally merciless way. Granted, when we read about people who broke into the homes of others to steal things or when we read about some doctor who made a fatal error, it is quite understandable to feel a certain degree of anger and fear. Such news tend to make people wonder: what if something like that had happened to me? Or to one of my loved ones?

Although I can understand the fear and anger that affects people who have suffered as a result of another person's mistake, I surely do not support the belief that the wrong-doer's life should be destroyed as a consequence of the error. As long as human beings are not changed in a biochemical way, people will continue making countless mistakes that are only made possible because of the way they are.

Any person who suffers as a result of a mistake should be helped. Yet, I believe that society should also help the individual who made the mistake. Whether the help given consists of psychotherapy or some other form of assistance, this should definitely be the preferred option rather than inflicting pain on another human being that requires help to avoid erring again.

Eric Cropp's story is a clear reminder of why things should change when it comes to mistakes. According to an article that appeared on USA Today, "Born in February 2004, Emily was diagnosed with a curable form of cancer when she was 18 months old. She underwent surgeries and four rounds of chemotherapy to eradicate the tumor growing from the base of her spine. The treatment worked, and Emily was expected to go home disease-free just after her second birthday. Her parents planned a Disney World celebration trip with Emily and her older brother and sister. Instead, Emily awoke crying on Feb. 28, grabbing her head in pain and vomiting. She died three days later. An Ohio pharmacy board investigation showed that pharmacy technician Katherine Dudash had made a tragic error. According to a notarized statement Dudash wrote for the board, she prepared Emily's chemotherapy bag with a 23.4% saline solution, 26 times the 0.9% normally used. Pharmacist Eric Cropp didn't catch the mistake. The board revoked his license last year over the incident and a string of later errors. In August, an Ohio grand jury indicted Cropp on charges of reckless homicide and involuntary manslaughter 'in the death of Emily Jerry'".

Apart from having spent 6 months in prison, Mr Cropp was also stripped of his warrant to work as a pharmacist. Is this a healthy way to deal with mistakes? What good came out of Mr Cropp's imprisonment and the fact that - to date - he is still unemployed?

I will conclude with an anonymous comment that was left following an Internet post regarding Mr Cropp's case: "I am a retail pharmacist in New Jersey and have made my share of mistakes always to realize them later and follow-up immediately on them. This is almost always due to over-burden. So it just saddens me that an over-worked pharmacist made such a grave mistake unintentionally and is now paying so dearly for it that he has lost a means of livelihood. The law should understand that pharmacists are over-worked and instead of punishing one pharmacist for it, should ensure that all pharmacies have adequate help to sustain the pharmacy. I hope for the best for pharmacist throughout the States and for the profession of pharmacy."

What if you had committed a similar mistake? How would you like to be treated after making such an error?

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Workers' Party of Korea

Next Sunday represents the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea by Kim Il Sung. To many people who do not know much or are badly misinformed about the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), this event might not mean much. Millions of DPRK citizens and their friends will, however, be celebrating this event.

Sadly, a reading of countless articles penned by many Western journalists about the DPRK suggests that such individuals have either never had any friends living in that country or they have never really bothered to take a good look at that part of the world often referred to as "North Korea". It could be that since those journalists have grown up in capitalist societies, they could find it quite hard to understand a society that tries to choose a different road. A socialist pathway leading to communism.

One of the things many people fail to understand about the DPRK is the organisation of society as a family. In such a society, the country's leader is regarded as a father and the Workers' Party of Korea is normally referred to as the "mother party". Indeed, in an article entitled "Mother Party" published in the magazine Korea Today, Ri Kyong Hui said that "The WPK takes responsibility and care for the people's destiny" (10, Juche 97 [2008], p. 2). The same article adds that "The DPRK government effected the universal free medical care system, when it was at war with the United States - a sure sign of its sense of responsibility for the people's health. The following universal free education system introduced in the late 1950s realized the hope of the people to study to their hearts' content free of charge. In 1974 the taxation system was abolished, and they have lived happily in the houses which the state allocated to them free, and they have no idea of the word of 'tax'" (p. 3).

More light could be shed on how life in the DPRK is organised by reading Kim Jong Il's works. In Socialism Is A Science (1994), he wrote "In our country, everyone regards and supports the leader as they would their own father. They trust and follow the Party, regarding its embrace as that of their own mother. The leader, the Party and the people form one socio-political organism, and share the same destiny. The whole of society overflows with communist morality. For instance, one devotes one's own life without hesitation to save one's revolutionary comrade from danger, and young men and women become life companions of honourably disabled soldiers and take warm care of orphans and old people without support, as they would their own relations. This is a proud result of the benevolent politics of our Party" (p. 31).

There are many other stories that reveal the care exhibited by the WPK. The aforementioned issue of Korea Today included an interesting article by Professor Kang Yong Ho, a researcher at the Kim Chaek University of Technology. This researcher spent the first few years of his life in Japan. Sometime around 1960, he was able to move to the DPRK with his wife and daughter. He wrote that "The day after our arrival home, an official sent for me. At the first glance he looked like a good man. He gave me two sheets of paper. One was a certificate of my appointment as a researcher of the Academy of Sciences, and the other was a certificate of my ownership of a good dwelling house. I looked at the official dubiously, and he said: 'Now you will be able to realize your hope to your heart's content under the embrace of the Workers' Party of Korea. You work as best as you can. And if you have any problem in your life and work, you may call on me at any time'" (p. 9).

In many other countries, millions of people do not feel that there is an organisation such as the WPK that acts as a mother to them. Instead of being made to feel important and part of a community, countless individuals in such countries are often left to fend for themselves. The lack of care and concern shown for millions of human beings is easily seen when one walks through various cities and counts the number of homeless people living in the streets. I still clearly remember how horrible it felt to walk through a part of Madrid littered with people sleeping on carton boxes during the winter season. No genuinely caring government should ever accept to have any of its citizens living without a decent roof over their head!

It is also important to remember that the WPK is doing its utmost to continue improving the standard of living of the people in the DPRK in spite of the many sanctions that are intended at sabotaging the socialist society chosen by millions of Koreans. United with their leader and guided by the WPK, the popular masses have resisted the attempts of various governments to replace socialism with neoliberalism.

Hopefully, the points mentioned above will be taken into consideration before another article is written by a Western journalist about the DPRK. By doing so, the readers would be able to obtain a better understanding of life in the DPRK.


Monday, 20 September 2010

The Need for Socialist Communes

I am really sick and tired of the present-day obsession with competition and individualism! On a daily basis, we are exposed to countless TV shows that do little more than exhibit one person trying to outsmart or shine more than one or more other individuals. The more brutal the competition and the greater the humiliation for the losing party/parties, the more attention is often given to the show. Several magazines follow a similar pattern - their covers do not normally feature a group of people that have done something positive for society. They usually prefer to show a couple whose marriage has broken down or to demonise some drug user who went on to commit a string of crimes.

When it comes to numerous workplaces, the degree of competition and individualism that pervades them makes it extremely difficult to develop genuine and lasting friendships. Considering that the average human being spends most of his adult life at work, it is quite sad to look back at the amount of time spent with other people and to still be unable to count many friends among that crowd.

Furthermore, it seems that an increasingly larger number of people are dedicating more time than ever before to studying after work in order to add more marketable skills to their CVs. Of course, if one spends a minimum of 8 hours at work and then an extra 2 hours attending some course or studying at home, there is not much time left to be with family and/or friends. For those people who do not have family or friends, the amount of time eaten up by work and study makes it fairly difficult to focus on building new relationships.

Some individuals might argue that communications technology has made it much easier for people to make friends. I would say that such technology has definitely made it easier to connect with many people all over the world, but the technology itself cannot replace the will to spend time and to share various experiences with other human beings. Taking Facebook as an example, it is possible to have over a thousand individuals tagged as "friends", but how many of those people would really qualify as true friends? How many of them know what you like to eat and drink when you go out? How many of them know what type of music you enjoy listening to? How many of them know what dreams you have for the future? How many of them would rush to visit you in hospital if you ended up there following major surgery?

Although various social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter allow people to share many of their thoughts throughout the day, a status update is often less than the tip of an iceberg in terms of trying to get to know a person. If I say that I am feeling tired on Facebook, this does not shed any light on some of my worst fears.

Whilst many people out there might be aware of which book we are currently reading or which movie we have just watched, this does not mean that all those individuals are committed to preserving a genuine friendship with us. Thus, when some people ask themselves "how many true friends do I really have?", they might feel a strong kick in the stomach as they find it hard to count the number of people who would provide some material and/or psychological help in times of need. When this happens, it is quite inevitable for several individuals to feel very lonely.

Loneliness. The social networking sites are great at trying to disguise this phenomenon. Loneliness is, however, very real and its effects should not be underestimated. Sadly, thousands of Euros/Dollars are spent every week on countless substances such as alcohol in an attempt to drown the pain that often accompanies loneliness.

There are many people who try to combat or to prevent loneliness by joining a religious organisation. This might have worked in the past, when several individuals were scared of questioning certain beliefs, but scientific thinking has become so strong these days that it is extremely difficult for many people to do or to believe something simply because it was written in a book many centuries ago. Granted, there are many positive things associated with the teachings of Jesus, but most religious organisations will not stop at those teachings; they will often also require their members to do certain things or to avoid countless behaviours which were never discussed by Jesus!

Another big problem that I see with most religious organisations is that they are way too judgemental. Many of them appear to be extremely eager to list the types of people that will never go to Heaven. A good number of them also use Hell in order to threaten people to believe; if you do not believe what I am telling you, you will spend eternity suffering in Hell! Isn't that horrible??? In a world where so many secular organisations are now talking about rehabilitation and about giving a wrong-doer another chance, the concept of eternal damnation looks totally absurd to me.

The main question that I would like to ask is this: if various religious organisations allow their members to live together, why can't there be secular ones that allow their members to do the same thing? Imagine how nice it would be to have socialist communes whereby the individuals living together share the same secular ideals and do not need to spend hours praying or reciting the rosary or memorising parts of the Old Testament! The people living together in this way would all contribute a share of their income to cover the commune's monthly expenses. Furthermore, if one of the commune's members falls ill or ends up unemployed, he/she would receive all the care and help that true socialists should give to those in need. The motto of these communes could be "All for one, one for all!"

The commune could consist of a block of apartments or a large house with many spacious rooms. All the members would be subject to a set of rules, but these rules would be motivated by the safeguarding of the community's welfare; they would not be based on something that must be believed simply because it was written by some "prophet" who lived many centuries ago!

So, could anyone tell me when the first socialist commune is going to be set up in Malta???

Monday, 13 September 2010

Forgiveness of One's Enemies

As I was surfing the Internet today, I came across the story of a certain Fr Juan Alsina. The latter was a Spanish Catholic priest who spent the last years of his life working in Chile.

Like many other Catholic priests working in Latin America during the late 1960s/early 1970s, Fr Alsina was very dedicated to improving the welfare of the hundreds of poor people that he met during his missionary work. During those times, several Catholic priests did not shy away from criticising the devastating impact of the capitalist economic model on countless communities.

Instead of being showered with praise, Fr Alsina was punished for his noble deeds. A few days after the Pinochet coup in September 1973, he was arrested and taken to a bridge for execution. Just before he was shot, he told the 18-year-old soldier who was going to kill him, "Please do not blindfold me...shoot me as you stand in front of me because I want to see you as I forgive you!"

Fr Alsina was only 31 years old when he was killed.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Rebels Against A Specific Lifestyle?

When talking about a typical adult's lifestyle, it could be said that most societies in the world clearly follow a specific model. The latter appears to be characterised by the following steps: having terminated one's full-time education (by choice or by necessity), a person is normally compelled to look for a job. Upon finding a job, an individual is usually expected to dedicate most of one's waking hours to that occupation throughout most days of the year. For millions of people, the cycle of waking up, getting ready, working, going back home, resting for a couple of hours, sleeping, and then repeating everything all over again is repeated for several decades. Given the fact that millions of human beings are constrained to borrow money in order to acquire a number of basic commodities, it is not surprising to see many people spending most of their lives trying to pursue freedom from debt.

Faced with the cycle mentioned above, it seems that most individuals just go along with the flow. These are the people who surrender a big chunk of their time on most days of the week so that they can earn enough money to survive and to enjoy some of the good things that life has to offer. These are the people who might have a number of jobs during a period of 30 or so years. They are the ones who believe that short of a "lucky exit", it is virtually impossible to think of an alternative lifestyle.

Although there are various types of jobs these days, it is difficult to regard the capitalist working culture that is encouraged in the majority of workplaces as the most socially beneficial one. In many private companies, there is cut-throat competition, a great deal of greed, and a shocking lack of concern for the general welfare of the employees. If an employee becomes ill for a relatively long period of time, instead of trying to think about ways of helping that person, it is not uncommon to hear many employees suggesting the need to get rid of such an "unproductive" individual in order to obtain a replacement. In countless private companies, nothing is more important than profit; whatever does not contribute to an increase of the bottom line should be eliminated or avoided. Several employers talk about "terminating" employees without showing too much discomfort.

Not all people feel able or willing to spend a good 30 or so years of their lives in such an atmosphere. Such individuals might believe that life is way too short to be spent on boasting about how much more efficient, smart, or productive one is compared to other fellow human beings. They might think that human beings were born free and that if a person wants to spend a year or two travelling and reading, one should be able to pursue such a lifestyle without the threat of starvation or homelessness. Such people might be very willing to help build a better society that would be able to encourage the positive development of every human being, but without having to compete against other individuals or to be constrained to one area of activity for countless years. Perhaps they would like to be able to help by spending two months teaching, six months building a community centre, and a year providing first aid services to several people.

Since most people do not seem to enjoy questioning the status quo and prefer to go with the flow, there is a widespread tendency to view those individuals who dare to rebel against the predominant lifestyle as "lazy" or even as "crazy". The attempt to be different is squashed by various measures which make life for such people virtually impossible. The most popular threat is starvation - if you refuse to go with the flow, you will not be given any money by nobody so that you will eventually die of hunger. With no money, you will eventually end up without any water and electricity, and perhaps even homeless.

I believe that it is far too simplistic to label all those people who decide that they do not want to form part of the predominant culture as lazy. Furthermore, even if they were acting in a "lazy way", something must have triggered such behaviour in the first place. Sadly, this issue does not seem to receive much attention during discussions about "the lazy people who do not want to work".

Throughout my life, I have come across some of these rebels. One of them had been working in a fairly senior position for many years before he decided that he no longer wanted to pursue such a lifestyle. Shortly after he quit, I asked him whether he was thinking of another job; his reply was, "I want to take a break...I want to spend some time without being bossed around by other people!" Of course, his decision had fairly predictable consequences. After a few months, his savings ran out and he started facing several problems to pay the bills, feed himself, and so on. In spite of all these hardships, he has still not returned to his former lifestyle.

Do you know any similar rebels? Have you ever talked to them in order to understand their motivations? Do you think that such people are just lazy and that they deserve all the troubles they face?

Monday, 16 August 2010


I have just finished reading an extremely interesting and entertaining book called Waiter Rant by Steve Dublanica. I loved the way in which the author managed to fuse descriptions of events at work with a number of reflections related to various issues such as immigration, substance abuse, and so on.

As I was reading this book, one of the issues that really struck me was the author’s feeling of being trapped at work. When he started working as a waiter at the age of 31, Dublanica wrote that the restaurant job was meant to be a short-term option until he moved on to something else. The problem is that as he faced a constant struggle to survive (payment of rent and other bills), quitting or moving to a new type of job was far easier said than done. Indeed, Dublanica ended up working as a waiter for several years until he managed to turn to writing as his main occupation.

Although the author eventually managed to switch to something he considered as more fulfilling, I strongly believe that the transition to a more rewarding activity is still a dream for millions of people around the world. More specifically, the feeling of entrapment mentioned by him seems to be shared by countless individuals who are presently engaged in a particular activity in an attempt to survive, but who would love to move to another occupation that is perceived by them as more rewarding economically as well as psychologically. The following post probably mirrors the despair of many individuals who are in such a situation:

"I'm married, have 2 kids and have been experiencing a debilitating depression recently. I feel my only purpose in life is to make money to support my family. I hate my job and feel stuck there, since I don't think I can get another job that pays as well and my wife doesn't work, so I'm the sole breadwinner. I know that I'll never be able to retire, and I will just work until I die. This situation leaves me very depressed and feeling trapped with no hope and no options.

I've become obsessed with money, figuring that if I can find ways to make money outside of work I might have a chance to retire someday. I tried the stock market and found it to be extremely stressful and it took over my entire existence. (I just lost $6200 this week day trading) The stock market was my last hope for a better life and I failed again. I feel like I'm a failure at everything, not performing well at work, losing my hard earned money by gambling in the market.

I come home completely exhausted from work and stressed out. I've lost interest in many things I used to enjoy. I have some better days, but often the bad days are so overwhelming they are nearly debilitating. There are many days I ignore the family and get drunk to escape from the pain of reality. I'm destroying my family in the process, the only reason I live, and I know that I need to change my behavior."

When I was working as a language teacher in Spain , I often felt trapped. Although I loved teaching, the job conditions I had were far from satisfactory. Similar to many waiters, I was paid on an hourly basis and there was no vacation or sick leave. There were several times when I dragged myself to work in spite of being sick so that I could earn some extra money to cover my expenses. It was quite difficult to adapt to a reality whereby it was hardly ever possible to forecast the amount of money I would be earning at the end of each month. Faced with such a lack of stability, it was virtually impossible to make various plans, such as a holiday trip to another country.

Apart from the irregularity of my monthly income, I also had to deal with odd working times. Since many students could only attend a language class following regular working hours, I often had to teach from, say, 6PM until 7:30PM. There were times when I returned home after 9PM! Given the type of students that I found, flexibility was a must. If a student was only available for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon, it was a matter of either accepting and earning an extra EUR 30 or losing out on such much-needed money. If I had turned certain students down because of the class times, I am pretty sure that my income would have shrunk to the point of being unable to cover all my monthly expenses!

Desperate to find something more stable, I started exploring a number of courses that I could pursue in order to improve my general life situation. There was a time when I toyed with the idea of studying IT. I then thought about studying nursing. There appeared to be an almost constant demand for IT professionals and for nurses. In both cases, the main problem was that the courses were held at times when I would normally be teaching. Attending a course to improve myself was, therefore, impossible. To make matters worse, most of the courses were too expensive for me! In the absence of any additional financial help, there was no way that I could quit teaching to spend a couple of years as a full-time student.

I eventually managed to move to something more stable. I am, however, pretty sure that there are still countless individuals out there who are still trapped; people who are still struggling to make their dreams come true. As one year after another goes by for such people, I admire their resilience; their belief in a better future.

To conclude, I would like to ask about how the governments of various countries are presently trying to help all those individuals who feel trapped, who would like to improve themselves, but who cannot presently do so because of financial issues. Are professional educational courses being offered to people who are constrained to spend from, at least, 8AM to 5PM working to earn enough money to pay the rent or a mortgage? Or are those courses only available to people who can afford to avoid working for a number of years? If ,say, a 30-year-old customer service representative who has no family support would like to study Law at university, what options presently exist to help this person make his dream come true? Are there any schemes for those people who have absolutely no family support that would allow them to quit a job and to seek further training without the risk of starvation and/or homelessness? A society that talks about equal opportunities and then fails to provide them should take a good look at itself and attempt to improve things so that no person is left behind. So that whoever is currently trapped can be freed.


Friday, 25 June 2010

Criticism and the Diversity of Opinions

It seems that many people praise the ability to criticise other persons. Indeed, if one had to take a look at the tabloids or watch a number of talk shows on TV, they would know very well what I am talking about. No action performed by a human being appears to be immune from criticism. No matter what one says or does, there will probably always be, at least, someone willing to engage in some critical activity. Is this good? Is it bad? Aren't we often told that we should promote the diversity of opinions?

This is not an easy topic to discuss. Each question could easily invite countless other questions. I would, however, like to attempt to go beyond the many cliches that are associated with the issue of criticism. In order to avoid any confusion, I would like to point out that I am linking critical activity to differences of opinion since it is very common for people who hold a particular set of beliefs to criticise any ideas which go against it.

Taking a look at the world's history, it is quite easy to identify how different views triggered so many terrible wars and persecutions. Millions of people have fought and died because of differences related to their religious and/or political beliefs.

At this stage, one of the questions in my mind is: if two people can only agree to disagree and are almost constantly criticising each other, does this necessarily mean that they must fight to the death? Of course not! When faced with such a situation, it is extremely important to exercise - first and foremost - tolerance. To me, tolerance means being able to accept that another person has a different view. I would, however, go a step further - tolerance should not just be limited to accepting that there are differences in opinions or beliefs; it should also trigger an attempt to understand why the other person views a particular issue differently. Such an understanding could shed light on why a person might find it so hard to change their mind about a specific topic.

There is little doubt that the acceptance of diversity and the attempt to understand its origins do not necessarily lead to any significant positive changes. To mention just one example, it seems quite unlikely that certain religious people who strongly believe that a drunkard will spend eternity in Hell would change their views following an acceptance of diversity and an understanding of why the drunkard ended up in such a state.

Although the diversity of opinions or beliefs has often led to social disharmony, a few words must be devoted to the distinction between positive and negative criticism. The former is still triggered by the existence of a different opinion, but it is usually said that such criticism is aimed at helping the other person to improve. Negative criticism, on the other hand, is normally associated with the attempt to hurt another person; to attack their self-esteem. If a person keeps failing an exam, it is one thing to tell that person "Your current studying strategies need to be revised since they are not leading to success", but it is something quite different to tell that person "Give up studying because your repeated failures only serve to show that you are dumb!"

In a world characterised by individuals who do not have a bird's-eye view of all the variables that exist in the universe and of how such variables interact with one another, a debate that is carried out with an emphasis on positive criticism could lead to great improvements and/or a fuller understanding of a number of issues. Given such a state of affairs, it would not be realistic to imagine resolving various problems without a certain amount of debates.

Sadly, there are still many times when debating is completely frowned upon. The avoidance of any type of debate opens the door to dogmatic, top-down communication that strongly resents ever being challenged or questioned. It appears that this tends to occur within several business, religious, and political organisations. When this happens, the consequences could be devastating.

If one had to focus on numerous religious organisations, it would not be difficult to notice how almost every attempt to question a core belief by someone is frequently regarded as "the work of Satan"!!! Whenever I hear that line, I immediately feel like telling the person who describes any type of questioning as Satanic the following words: "How do you really know that Satan exists? And please don't tell me that you know because you say that the Holy Spirit whispered it to you in your head!!!"

With reference to the Roman Catholic Church, more and more cracks are appearing in the walls of this organisation. The ban on female priests, the ban on contraception, the imposition of celibacy, the condemnation of homosexual behaviour...all these issues are being increasingly questioned by the members of this Church. A number of priests are also criticising certain positions that the Church still supports!

If one turns - to mention another example - to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, it is possible to find some extremely sad stories about the pain that various members had to face because of the Church's teachings about homosexuality. By avoiding any questioning and insisting that it is right in condemning homosexual behaviour as something that goes against God's Plan, several individuals have endured horrendous amounts of suffering. A few have also committed suicide.

When it comes to political parties, many members seem to be afraid of questioning certain positions because they do not wish to be regarded as "traitors" or as "disloyal". For those people whose party membership gives them a sense of belonging, it can be very difficult to risk expulsion as a result of taking a position that goes against a party position. Consequently, a party member might end up preaching one thing in order to avoid trouble, but privately believe the opposite thing. Such situations could clearly be avoided if a political party could learn how to manage diversity in better ways.

What about the harsh criticism that is often witnessed in multi-party societies? Although one party might say that its critique is aimed at improving the country, there seems to be little doubt that the tone that is frequently used in debates between political parties is very harsh. Instead of focusing on ideas and issues, it is specific individuals who are often targeted by a rival party. In a society that tends to adore competition, such bashing between parties is usually considered as totally acceptable. If there is cut-throat competition at work, in schools, at home, why should the political arena be left untouched? The sad thing is that the social bitterness that is created as one party lashes out at the other is dressed up as "democracy at work". At this stage, an interesting question could be: does the existence of numerous political parties really lead to a greater degree of social harmony? Couldn't we try to discover better ways of working together instead of creating tribes to fight each other? Does democracy necessarily require a political party for every different opinion that one might have?

One final question: will there ever be a time when all people can live peacefully together without any disagreements? Without any bitter criticism or terrible clashes? Who knows?

All I can say right now is that as long as people continue to disagree on one thing or another, criticism will continue to exist. My hope is that any debate or any criticism could be utilised for exclusively positive purposes.


Friday, 28 May 2010

Religious Organisations - To Join or Not to Join?

Every now and then, I end up discussing the pros and cons of belonging to a religious organisation. I had one such conversation earlier on today.

I was talking to one of my colleagues about this person who belongs to a Neocatechumenal group. This individual should be getting married sometime next year. When asked about how many children he would like to have, his reply was along the lines of "As many as God decides to give us..." To my knowledge, members of such groups are against the use of any contraceptives. I said that this person must be earning a good salary in order to afford having several children! My colleague then told me that money is not such an issue for these people since they have an extremely effective support network. In other words, as long as one belongs to one of these groups, some sort of help - material or otherwise - should always be available. This colleague added that an aunt of hers who also belongs to the same type of group had ten children and that the family received a great deal of help from other group members.

In a world increasingly characterised by governments that do not show much care towards their citizens, one could say that numerous religious groups are managing to recruit several members as they provide the affection and help that is not being given by the State or by other secular organisations. Faced by issues such as poor job security, low wages, and inadequate housing conditions, it is plausible to argue that many people would be interested in belonging to an organisation that is aimed at improving one's position in life.

Sadly, many secular organisations that I have belonged to or witnessed have fallen very short of providing the type of care and help that is frequently seen among members of a religious organisation. Referring to my own experience within a secular organisation in Malta, I still clearly remember how the members would meet up to discuss group tasks without barely knowing much about one another. Granted, if the group was set up to achieve certain tangible objectives, there must be something to indicate progress, but there is no reason to justify why the members of a voluntary organisation should treat each other in a relatively cold way. With reference to the same organisation, I remember that no social events would ever be organised and most of the contact between the members was limited to a discussion or planning of specific projects.

As time went by, my interest in belonging to such an organisation waned. No matter how interesting the projects were, it felt horrible to spend time with people who barely knew anything about me, who never asked me how I was, who showed very little warmth...

Having also attended the meetings of a number of religious organisations, I could clearly identify the difference between the atmosphere within a religious group and a non-religious one. Generally speaking, most of the people I met at several religious gatherings showed genuine interest in me. Furthermore, many of them would keep in touch and try to meet up regularly in order to do fun things together.

At this stage, one of the biggest questions I have is: why does it seem to be so difficult to come across a non-religious organisation whose members are seriously interested in each other's general welfare? Why is it that one could attend numerous meetings of a secular organisation and still feel very lonely?

Although some readers could think that I am presently arguing in favour of belonging to a religious organisation, I would like to correct that impression. It is true that joining a religious organisation could lead to several material and psychological benefits. No doubt about that. Yet, such benefits are rarely offered to people for free. There is usually a price to pay. And there are many occasions when this price might be way too high to accept.

Focusing on numerous Christian organisations, membership usually entails a totally dogmatic mindset vis-a-vis several issues. For instance, in order to become a member of such an organisation, it is normally essential to consider the Bible as the true word of God. Every line, every word must be interpreted literally. The attempt to challenge a part of the Bible could easily be regarded as "Satanic influence". Whenever one starts questioning certain parts of the Bible, that person is often advised to pray to the Holy Spirit for guidance. Yet, what happens if you pray and pray and the guidance never comes?

Apart from not being allowed to question anything about the Bible, most Christian organisations seem to enjoy adding many extra rules of their own. For example, in order to belong to one organisation, an individual could be obliged to deprive oneself of food for several hours once a month (fasting). This deprivation is supposed to bring spiritual enlightenment and gifts to one's life, but this is - of course - extremely subjective. Many other rules could exist and it is usually impossible to challenge them. Naturally, the more rules there are, the easier it becomes for a person to feel as though their freedom has been taken away from them.

Furthermore, the tendency to rely on something that was written or said by another person would normally prevent a fruitful debate about a particular topic. For example, if one were to start analysing a specific behaviour, a member of a Christian organisation would normally just check what the Bible says and immediately judge that behaviour as good or evil. I think that such an approach underestimates the complexity of being human and frustrates the attempt to understand many behaviours in a new way. For example, what good comes out of judging an alcoholic person as a sinner who will end up spending eternity in Hell unless he/she "repents"?

When I sometimes hear certain people quote various chunks from the Bible, I often think to myself: what if all the time devoted to memorising a text that was written in a totally different culture hundreds of years ago was devoted to scientific research? Imagine if the efforts to memorise the Bible or other "sacred texts" were focused on trying to find a cure for countless diseases or on improving several aspects of our lives.

To me, the idea of belonging to a religious organisation always triggers the same question: in order to enjoy feeling loved and cared for, must I go from being a very analytical and open-minded person to a completely dogmatic one? I really enjoy being in an organisation that cherishes human welfare and strives to build a better world characterised by love, but it is too difficult for me to be a member of a structure that has such goals, but which also reduces one's life to embracing a personality cult (spending hours just singing songs of worship) and to following several rules in a totally dogmatic way. I keep asking myself: why can't people unite to care about one another and to build a better world without having to invent so many rules that could either harm them (take fasting as an example) or that deprive them of numerous harmless freedoms (the freedom for a woman to become a priest in the Roman Catholic Church, for instance)?

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Promotion to Supervisor

Last Tuesday I was promoted to the position of supervisor at work. Most of my work will still revolve around claims, but I will also be handling some underwriting activities.

I started working in insurance in late 2005. I spent a short time working for an insurance agency (handling hundreds of health insurance claims) and I then moved to an insurance broking/management firm. I joined the latter company as a trainee in 2006 and I have managed to climb my way up to the current position of supervisor in around 3.5 years.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Those Who Never Quit

Friday, 19 March 2010

The Rise of the Communist Party of Malta

Last Monday, the Times of Malta published an interesting article regarding the Maltese Communist Party. Although this party has been in existence since 1969, it never enjoyed the popular support that could easily be witnessed when talking about the country's two biggest political parties (the Nationalist Party and the Labour Party).

Although the Labour Party in Malta never embraced Marxist-Leninist principles, the Mintoff and Mifsud Bonnici administrations were clearly more leftist than the Sant and Muscat ones. During those times, the most prominent Labour Party representatives stressed the importance of doing things within an ideological context. Hence, if a measure was going to be implemented, it was fairly easy to fathom how such an action was intended to coincide with the party's ideological objectives. The speeches about the benefits of Socialism helped to distinguish the Labour Party from the Nationalist one. As stated above, the Labour Party was never a Communist organisation, but the discourse used by individuals such as Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici sometimes overlapped with that utilised by a number of Communists. By using this strategy, several Maltese people perceived the Labour Party as being sufficiently leftist and did not feel a strong need to move to another party that also talked about the fruits of Socialism.

With the introduction of Alfred Sant's New Labour strategies during the 1990s, there was a fairly evident desire to move away from the anti-capitalist rhetoric that was quite popular during the 1970s and the 1980s in order to embrace a more pro-capitalist stance towards various issues. Almost from the start, this change led to varying degrees of friction within the party. To many people, the key question was: if the Labour Party was planning to desert "the Socialist Cause", what really made it so different from the Nationalist one?

Over the years, the Labour Party developed into an organisation that would talk about social justice and about a number of topics frequently mentioned by leftist parties, but it would hardly ever specify how it seriously intended to remedy countless social ills. Furthermore, even though it was clear that numerous problems were being facilitated by the increasing penetration of capitalist practices in Malta, the bulk of the Labour Party politicians never dared to criticise this economic model. Once capitalism was embraced in the most dogmatic way, politics was reduced to a competition between who could be the best manager of a fundamentally capitalist society.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Communist Party of Malta went underground. Although it was never disbanded, it became largely inactive.

When it became clear that the Labour Party had become just another pro-capitalist organisation, several individuals started feeling as though the country lacked a political vehicle that could seriously challenge the capitalist model that formed the basis on which the Maltese economy was built.

Aware of this reality, the Communist Party of Malta started noticing a growing degree of interest in a party that was seriously interested in preserving and/or ensuring free education, health care, stable and decent employment, proper housing, and so on. Unlike the other huge parties, the Communist Party of Malta was not going to pay lip-service to workers' rights and then fail to review the country's appalling minimum wage.

More and more people are losing faith in Malta's two biggest parties. As such individuals feel that neither one of those parties is truly working hard enough to ensure that ALL people residing in Malta have a certain level of welfare, the Communist Party will continue to grow day by day...

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Capitalism Generates Prosperity?

When discussing political ideologies, I often hear many people say that "capitalism generates prosperity". It might do so, but any prosperity that is generated through this system is clearly not being distributed fairly. Some political parties might talk about the importance of distributing the prosperity created by capitalism, but history has clearly demonstrated that most people who are only interested in earning millions of dollars for themselves are not really interested in sharing their wealth with other human beings. Furthermore, certain businesses have become so powerful that several governments have become little more than puppets whose strings are pulled in order to ensure that the interests of the business community take top priority. How scary!

The US has often been associated with easy money, luxurious lifestyles, and "democracy". The US might be similar to life in a holiday complex for a relatively small percentage of the population, but there are millions of US citizens who are suffering. The Hunger Report 2010, authored by the Feeding America organisation, "shows that hunger is increasing at an alarming rate in the United States". Listed below are some highly alarming statistics quoted from the same report:

* Feeding America is annually providing food to 37 million Americans, including 14 million children. This is an increase of 46 percent over 2006, when we were feeding 25 million Americans, including 9 million children, each year.
* That means one in eight Americans now rely on Feeding America for food and groceries.
* Feeding America's nationwide network of food banks is feeding 1 million more Americans each week than we did in 2006.
* Thirty-six percent of the households we serve have at least one person working.
* More than one-third of client households report having to choose between food and other basic necessities, such as rent, utilities and medical care.
* The number of children the Feeding America network serves has increased by 50 percent since 2006.

Absolutely shocking! I mean, every country could go through hard times whereby access to certain supplies might be reduced, but the incomprehensible part is this: there are 37 million Americans who are in desperate need of food in the US while individuals such as Kim Kardashian and Hugh Hefner are allowed to retain the resources that could greatly benefit their communities to themselves! Such greed leaves me reeling!

Perhaps I am so bitter towards the lies of capitalism because I also grew up believing that living well depended on getting yourself a good education and working. I have an Honours degree in Psychology together with a string of other qualifications, but the money earned until now has never been sufficient to invest it or to save for an emergency. Living in a credit economy where salaries are kept generally low so that people have to borrow money to buy various items, slavery to debt is practically inevitable. There are individuals in the US who owe thousands of dollars to one or more banks and such money was borrowed to get an education! Why put so much pressure on people? If people are not going to be paid much, there should - at least - be free education, healthcare, housing, transport...

Of course, it is far easier to live in state of denial and to continue thinking that everything is fine while we are almost constantly exposed to "talent" shows and to music videos produced by millionaires. The problem is that once celebrities such as Lady Gaga have finished singing a song, they will just continue raking in more millions of dollars whilst many other millions of people will be trying to make up their minds about whether buying certain medicines might mean the loss of a meal or two...


Saturday, 20 February 2010

A Jealous Lover Called Work

Once upon a time, work was regarded as a part of life. Besides work, many people often engaged in various activities, such as reading, writing, participating in group events, and so on.

During the past few years, it seems that work is becoming increasingly similar to a very possessive lover that will not tolerate any other rivals or interference. Indeed, with all the modern communication gadgets such as I-Phones, Blackberries, and laptops that could be utilised in free WiFi zones, it appears that it is becoming very hard for several individuals to be able to draw a line between work and the rest of their life activities. How many times has a family event been interrupted by a work-related SMS or phone call on one's mobile? For more and more people, leaving the office is no longer tantamount to finishing a day's work and to concentrating on other things. You did not manage to answer the 150 unread emails in your inbox? Don't worry! Just go home, log onto the Internet, and continue working from your bedroom! Friends and family can wait another day! Your health? Only weaklings complain about such things!

With the spectre of unemployment and the threat of competition that pervades capitalist societies, many people feel obliged to prove that they are indispensable to the company. Consequently, they tend to bite much more than they can chew. By having one's finger in so many things, the idea appears to be that of giving the impression that should they leave the company, the company's work will grind to a catastrophic halt.

The desire to feel indispensable has also fuelled a phenomenon called presenteeism. Put simply, many individuals remain in the office beyond business hours with the hope that even if they are not on top on things, they are still doing their utmost to achieve the company's objectives. Some also make it a point to show that most of the week-end was spent on work-related projects.

Over a period of time, the people who succumb to the temptation of making work the centre of their lives often realise that even though work might satisfy many of their psychological needs, such satisfaction comes at a heavy price. Spouses and friends often end up neglected, invitations to social events are turned down, and finding time to pursue other educational activities such as learning a new language are postponed to "sometime in the future". Furthermore, when people end up dedicating 12, 14, or 16 hours a day to work, there is little doubt that such strain is going to have a negative impact on one's health. I wonder how many families have broken down because of work-related pressures. How many friendships have wilted as a result of neglect. How many children have grown up with nannies since one or both parents are always at work. How many individuals have lost their lives or developed chronic illnesses as a result of work-related stress.

The question I keep asking myself is: why should one devote so much effort to increasing the wealth of some shareholders at the expense of one's own health, family, friends, personal and social development? Don't people realise that no matter how glorious one's current position might appear to be, a day will come when one will have to retire? And then what? Are the shareholders going to come to visit you in hospital and to hold your hand when you are so sick that you can barely ingest any food? Are the shareholders going to look after your loved ones?

I think that most societies should take a fresh look at the whole notion of work. Why do people work? What objectives should work allow us to achieve - as individuals and as a society? Shouldn't workers be treated with care from the cradle to the grave? Shouldn't work be more about building a better society characterised by healthy individuals rather than swelling the pockets of a relatively small number of people? The investigation continues...


Sunday, 14 February 2010

This Blog is Not Dead!

No, this blog is not dead! I have been extremely busy with so many things during the last few months, but I hope to have some more Internet time for myself in order to publish new, thought-provoking posts in the near future. :)))