These five words are perhaps the five most powerful and significant words spoken by Pope Francis since he became leader of the Catholic Church. Although I am not a Catholic, I do not automatically respect the leader of any Church or organisation, unless they have earned it through not only their words but, most importantly, their actions. However, these words spoken whilst addressing the issue of gay men and women in the Church did make me sit up and listen.
Judging others is perhaps one of the easiest and most destructive things that expats indulge in. Many expats write to tell me of their damaging experiences with other expats when arriving in their new country. They arrive full of anticipation and hope for a new life in their chosen country, only to be met by cynicism and suspicion from the ‘established’ experts living in their communities. Many expats tell me of the ‘expat pecking order’ that has quickly established itself in the expat ghettos of the Costas. Instead of a warm welcome, many expats tell me that they witness a degree of hostility upon their arrival. A seemingly innocent welcome drink with the neighbors is often followed by a barrage of questions designed to draw out the personal circumstances, fortunes and health of the aspiring expat.
Of course, psychologists will tell us that this destructive inquisitiveness is a way that expats defend their existing, and often hard won, territories, image and position in the community. As with any animal grouping, these expats fiercely defend their rights against a possible intruder should they feel threatened in any way. All communities quickly develop spokesmen and leaders within their community. Often this is a good thing, but only if fulfilled with humility and tolerance.
I recall one self-appointed spokesman for a newly built block of apartments that we were living in when we first moved to Spain. Each block of apartments should have a ‘Community’, which is a legal entity designed to govern and oversee the maintenance, cleanliness of the shared areas, as well as the rights of owners of the apartments. In our case, this did not happen, and a forthright and outspoken German lady stepped in to fulfill this role. During some of those dreadful days when the lift was not working, the electricity and water was disconnected and repairs were needed, this community spirited lady took on the fight with builders, the Town Hall, water and electricity companies. She bullied, argued and cajoled to do what was right for all of the residents living in the apartment. In the end, she won and we were all exceedingly grateful to her.
I contrast this to another case that I have recently heard of, whereby a long term British expat woman, married to a Spanish man, maliciously gossiped about her neighbors, whom she did not like, and claimed that they were responsible for a number of local burglaries. She had no evidence, but the seed of doubt that she planted into the minds of some expats created a situation whereby she skilfully began to turn the entire street against one particular family, whom she did not approve of, and had a personal vendetta against. Quite simply, neighbors believed what she said simply because she had lived in Spain for many years and could speak the language fluently. She felt that this distinction gave her the right to be appointed as sole judge and jury. More astute neighbors began to ask questions, but the damage had already been done, because the seed of doubt had been sown.
All communities can become potentially destructive and the expat community is no different to any other. Lack of understanding of language and culture, as well as undeserved respect for those that have been in the country longer may make the newly arrived expat complacent as to what is right and what is wrong. It is important that all expats retain an open mind, determine what is right and wrong for themselves, and not be easily influenced by established expats who see themselves as top of the ‘pecking order’.
‘Who am I to judge?’ asked the Pope. For once, I agree wholeheartedly with him.