We humans are pretty petty. Most of us are hardly pretty but petty we sure are.
I thought of our national pettiness when some time ago a few of us were having a bright and light conversation with one of our nation’s better artists. When I say “our national pettiness” I actually include myself as I know I’m terribly (better than pretty no?) petty.
Anyway, said artist related a story when she was chosen for some project or combined exhibition and someone else wasn’t. Now life, as they say, might be a bitch to me but a darling to my neighbour and it is all part of human nature: this neighbour might be mega-rich and loved and followed by hordes of belles. While I, who work harder and try even harder to succeed, am poor, hardly worth looking at and would not have hordes of belles even if I paid them. Same with talent and the daubing on a canvas: an artist might think she is the best around but if critics do not like her painterly oeuvre and the men and women who matter usually bypass her stuff, then the curators might opt for another artist instead of her even if the chosen artist, according to her, stinks.
Life, as I said, is like that (a bit tough on some of us). No amount of annoyance and rumour-mongering at the way the choice was made or at life or at all corrupt curators will mend the perceived, and usually delusionary, injustice. But where does pettiness come in? Oh, the artist who wasn’t chosen bitched about the chosen one and now acts all aloof and detached when in the presence of the “chosen” one.
On the national level, all this hardly matters I hear some inner voice admonishing me. But it does really because as a nation we are petty to a degree that frightens me and we are getting worse.
History books tell us that while Rome burnt, Nero fiddled. Not fiddled the books, of course, but played his musical instrument. You would be forgiven for thinking Malta’s Prime Minister not only fiddled the nation’s books but he also managed to spirit away all the Central Bank reserves noting the way Jean-Pierre Farrugia acted and ranted while making an outcry about the rise in the ministers’ salaries.
It’s true the way the salary debacle was handled was terrible. But I still wonder: if the eminent doctor of Floriana had been, as he had expected and demanded, nominated minister or mini-minister in Lawrence Gonzi’s Cabinet way back after the election, would he still have done all this ranting? And would he have given, publicly and with loads of fanfare, his pay rise to the charity of his choice? Or would he have been a member of the maligned Cabinet who pocketed their salary?
There is even more pettiness in local politics and morbidly even in the praise of dead people. Right after Mario Felice’s death was announced, Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando wrote a letter in The Times about him and his ways. Dr Pullicino Orlando reminded us all how Dr Felice was his, and his father’s, hero.
I took the dentist to be merely praising an ex-minister and fellow ex-Nationalist; nothing too ominous there. Then, a few days later, Dr Farrugia went all gooey about Dr Pullicino Orlando’s letter and agreed with all his fellow backbencher said about Dr Felice.
All this is ominous when one remembers that, in life, Dr Felice was a brilliant man renowned for several things but definitely not for being a party man or a man who followed his party leader. He was rather a maverick, in fact, so that has made him the hero and saintly idol of all present mavericks and ranting backbenchers. Oh, and by some strangely terrible coincidence, when the letters by our present petty mavericks praising Dr Felice were appearing in The Times, our commissioner in Brussels made it known he was still in the political arena. He was throwing dull tantrums and stamping his feet crying “It’s not fair”, obviously refusing to accept he has lost the leadership race once and for all.
Some of our politicians act just like the petty artist who was excluded from the exhibition. When life’s a bitch to us we get our own back by bitching away till we become a sorry sight. Our country needs politicians who can steer us out of any future problems and not get lost in petty squabbles and even pettier jealousies.
This article appeared in The Times on February 26 2011