The Malta Independent 4 October 2022, Tuesday
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Let us embrace diversity

Evarist Bartolo Tuesday, 9 August 2022, 08:13 Last update: about 3 months ago

One of the best speeches urging people to embrace diversity and celebrate it is that given by King Harald V of Norway six years ago:

“It is not always easy to say where we are from, what nationality we belong too. What we call home, is where our heart is – and that is sometimes difficult to place within borders.”

“Norwegians are engaged youth and experienced old.  Norwegians are unmarried, divorced, families and old couples. Norwegians are girls who love girls, boys who like boys, and girls and boys who are fond of each other.”

“Norwegians believe in God, Allah, Everything and Nothing.”

His message of diversity and inclusion is even more powerful because it is delivered in the quiet gentle voice of a 79-year-old king.

But King Harald is not an ordinary king. He is reserved but outspoken. He has worked to modernise the Norwegian monarchy, making the royal family more accessible to the media through personal interviews. He fell in love with Sonja, the present queen, but his father did not want him to marry her as she was a commoner. 60 years ago in Norway, Harald was expected to marry another royal or at the least someone from the nobility.

Harald insisted that he would marry Sonja or no one at all. A celibate Harald would have meant the end of the royal line, since he was the sole heir to the throne as succession rules at the time meant his sisters were not eligible. Harald and Sonja dated each other for whole nine years before his father gave in and allowed them to marry in 1968 in Oslo’s cathedral.

So, King Harald, does not only tolerate controversy, he is ready to put it into practice. Six years ago, during a summer party in the garden of his palace he stood up to give a speech for the occasion and a few minutes later, not only did it impress his small audience, it went viral around the whole world. The simple and effective conversational style touched millions of hearts and minds in Norway and beyond. These are the highlights that deserve to be reproduced in full:

“So, what is Norway?

“Norway is high mountains and deep fjords. Its plains and coastline, islands and islets. There are lush meadows and gentle hills. Sea crashing against the country from the north, west and south.

“Norway is Midnight sun and polar night. It is both harsh and mild winters. There are both hot and cold summers. Norway is elongated and sparsely inhabited.

“But Norway is, above all, people.

“Norwegians are northerners, troenders, southerners – and people from all the other regions. Norwegians have also emigrated from Afghanistan, Pakistan and Poland, Sweden, Somalia and Syria. My grandparents immigrated from Denmark and England 110 years ago. 

“It is not always easy to say where we are from, what nationality we belong too. What we call home, is where our heart is – and that is sometimes difficult to place within borders.

“Norwegians are young and old, high and low, able-bodied and wheelchair users. An increasing number are over one hundred years. Norwegians are rich, poor and in between. Norwegians like football and baseball, climb mountains and sail – while others are most fond of the sofa.

“Some have good self-esteem, while others are struggling to believe that they are good enough as they are. Norwegians are working in shops, hospitals, and oil platforms. Many Norwegians work to keep us safe, and many work to keep the country clean of garbage and looking for new solutions for a green future. Norwegians farm the land and are engaged in fishing.

“Norwegians research and teach. Norwegians are engaged youth and experienced old.  Norwegians are unmarried, divorced, families and old couples. Norwegians are girls who love girls, boys who like boys, and girls and boys who are fond of each other.

“Norwegians believe in God, Allah, Everything and Nothing.

“Norwegians like Grieg and Kygo, Hellbillies and Kari Bremnes.

“In other words, Norway is you. Norway is us. When we in our national anthem sing; “Yes, we love this country,” we must remember that we also sing about each other. For it’s we who make up the country. Therefore, our national anthem also is a declaration of love to the Norwegian people.

“My greatest hope for Norway is that we are able to take care of each other. That we in the future are going to build this country on trust, fellowship and generosity. That we shall know that we – despite of all our differences – are one people. That Norway is one.”

Our lack of empathy

These are the words of a person who can empathise with other people who do not live in the comfort of privilege and palace. At the beginning of this year, he said: “What will it take for us human beings to live well together? This question has infinitely many answers. But I think one is more important than many others: The ability to empathize with other people’s lives. I think it is crucial that we take the time and effort to really listen to other people’s experiences—with a desire to understand. If we allow ourselves to be touched by them, it affects the way we think and act. Both in our close relationships and in larger communities. We are facing a new year—with both hope and anxiety.”

Last May in ‘History Today’, History lecturer Danielle Terrazas Williams was asked: “What will future generations judge us most harshly for?” She answered: “Our lack of empathy.”

At a time when we are all aware that global challenges like the pandemic, climate crisis and conflicts can only be address adequately through global cooperation, we are tearing each other apart, forming hostile blocs in a divided and polarised world. We will only survive on our planet if we at least agree on a minimum of global cooperation. The alternative would be a catastrophe.

King Harald is an accomplished sailor and knows very well that skill, resilience and wisdom is required to navigate in turbulent seas.  His life prepared him for that: when the Nazis invaded Norway in 1940, he had to flee his country together with his family and found refuge in the United States. At the age of 17 he lost his mother to cancer. In 1960 he entered Balliol College in Oxford and studied history, economics and politics.

I am a convinced republican and a firm believer that in democracies all office holders should be elected and political power should not be inherited on the basis of what family you are born in.

King Harald wields his symbolic power much better than a number of democratically elected heads of state and his combined values of inclusion, diversity and empathy is what the whole world needs if things are not going to get worse.

 

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