‘Diversity will not prove to be a barrier but rather a reason for our future success’ – this was the key conclusion of competition winner, 16-year-old Chloe Cauchi when she addressed the motion ‘A diverse society is a sustainable society’.
The competition was a public speaking event organised by the Gozo Branch of the English Speaking Union of Malta. Its aim, to offer an opportunity for young people to speak out and to develop their capacity and confidence in doing so.
What was striking about their input was not simply their articulateness but also the underlying themes, concerns, values and dreams they expressed. For me, they reflected the specificity and culture of the island itself alongside a universality so vital to a future flourishing Gozo and Malta.
Let me illustrate.
Speaker Nicole Micallef posed the question whether she should have to abandon her dreams in order to be (or to be deemed to be) a ‘success’ or to achieve ‘satisfaction’ in her life? She argued against the cynical orthodoxy that only money defines success and called for a better balance between dreams and reality.
Reflecting a broader theme, she argued for a society that was open to the world in its broadest sense, one that was not narrow and restraining but rather one that was creative and sustainable.
Almost all participants argued that it was in our interest to accept people for what they are and not to brand them by, for example, their ethnicity or gender orientation; accepting diversity in culture, perspectives and experience serves not to weaken but to strengthen society.
Princess Orire and Paul Psaila argued that the broader our society, the greater its vision, pool of talent, creativity and its capacity for ‘thinking outside the box’. A society destined to simply relive and replicate the past lowers its sights and its dreams significantly.
Young people are here to make history not just to repeat it- Chloe Cauchi, 16
While democracy is a key foundation in society, it takes time to build, needs to be built and rebuilt by each generation and requires the energy of diverse ideas and opinions. Samuel Xerri reminded us of this universal and yet specific truth (using the drafting of the American Declaration of Independence to illustrate the point).
Education featured strongly throughout the discussion. Many contributors highlighted the fact that schools and teachers taught not just subjects but also values and that such values were crucial in life. They decried the tendency to downplay the humanities, especially history (‘if we don’t study history, how can we learn from previous mistakes?’).
In her winning presentation, Chloe noted that in Gozo, the tendency often is to see difference as ‘bad’ and as something to be ‘discarded’. In contrast she offered the uplifting idea that there is ‘beauty in diversity’. She insisted that young people are here to make history ‘not just to repeat it’.
The theme of the competition was ‘Discover Your Voice’ and it is clear to me that such voices have indeed been discovered and what they have to say should influence what happens on this (and these) islands now and in the immediate future. To ignore them would be the height of folly and would represent a serious democratic deficit. Young Gozitans (and, by definition Maltese) have a right to meaningful involvement and not just to the normal patronising acknowledgement.
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