A recent study has declared the Maltese to be among Europe’s “angriest and most worried.” The rhetoric of anger and fear has long figured in political discourse – most perniciously, perhaps, in the way it has framed the discourse on migration. Even though migrant communities have contributed to Maltese society for centuries, as Maltese migrants have done in their many countries of adoption, it is only recently that the role of migrant communities as agents for development has begun to receive due consideration. What emerges as a result is the need to convert the ‘discourse of dialogue’ into an active practice that encourages migrant and Maltese communities to build mutual belonging within society.
A secure feeling of belonging is of primary importance, fostered in childhood and developed throughout life. It makes shared wellbeing possible among individuals, their families, and communities. Without such a sense of belonging, anybody would find themselves at risk of feeling lost and isolated. In this regard, migrant communities face further stressors that may contribute to mental health challenges. Research also reveals that migrants and their families are less likely to seek supportive services for these concerns. Pursuing citizenship, the labyrinthine process to acquire legal residency, and much of the rhetoric surrounding migration can produce or intensify pervasive levels of stress.
As part of the reciprocal process of relationship-building, Maltese communities and migrant communities are equally invited to face their particular but shared experiences of disaffection and dislocation. As Malta changes in radical ways, the social ties that accompany a sense of belonging are being called to change, to creatively adjust. Moreover, as a core protective factor, this sense of belonging is intrinsic to well-managed stress and the containment of behavioural disturbances. When we feel we have support and know that we are not alone, our families and communities are more resilient, often coping more effectively in the face of unpredictable challenges.
Crisis precludes connection, and the inflamed reactions that characterise the subject of migration in Malta compromise the possibility of any long-term dialogue among communities. Skyrocketing societal stress levels express the strain being borne by certain families and communities, complicating the issue still further. Like tangled roots, unhealthy relationships produce a vulnerable society with a host of secondary problems.
Incarnating the dream of our belonging in social relations is therefore a vital need of the present time. If our sense of belonging is, ultimately, a coming home to ourselves then it is no more nor less than a return to our experience of the world in contact with others. Just as the most ancient spiritual traditions have encourages an individual on the journey towards personal transformation, the call now encompasses a common ethic of development that restores the individual to her or his ‘proper place’, as a potential communal participant in life’s preservation and celebration.