The value of words

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I have been taught that words matter. They allow the others to understand who we are, how we live, what is the value we endow our relations with people with. Words must not be abused. Especially in politics. If you overuse or debase them, you harm yourself, because in the long run you lose credibility. And you damage the community you are supposed to represent, because you end up feeding that confusing chatter which blurs the sharp contour of the things. It goes without saying that words may not be separated from reality.

For years in Italy, the boundary between words and deeds has been growing unstable. Everything is relative. Even numbers, which are strictly speaking irrefutable, seem to become subjective, able to be modulated according to the convenience of those who comment on them. It seems to be a topic of political communication. Yet, it is a question that helps to explain the degeneration of public ethics, the fraying of the bond of trust between those who represent and those who are represented,  the delegitimization of the political and institutional system.

Of course, obsession with immediate consensus has a large impact. Given the complexity of problems, a big deal of which are difficult to explain and even more so to solve, the shortcut is to use words to score today, without offending facts and what will happen tomorrow. It is a very widespread  attitude which represents both the cause and the consequence of that chronic Italian disease some people have termed shortermism, others –short vision, others still – presentism.

It is a national attitude which consists in the country’s tendency to experience short cycles characterized by a strong emotional intensity, emotions which turn off as soon as arrives a new wave of equally enthralling feelings. Thus, cycles follow one another day after day. And the public agenda of the country is transformed into a confusing patchwork of priorities perceived as urgent, but which end up being archived very soon. As the homepage of an information site. Or as the trending topics on Twitter.

Applied to the practice of governing, this trend heavily affects the task of those who must lead the country. To govern and call forth emotions are obviously not incompatible actions. On the other hand, empathic relationship with people and their passions at present is crucial more than ever, especially if we consider the progressive erosion of the role played in the past by intermediate bodies. At Palazzo Chigi all those abstract discourses appear in a one sole light, rather different from how you imagined it. You can do politics for years or even decades, even at the highest levels, but the pressure of the expectations of millions of people is felt the most when you are in that position. You ask yourself if your shoulders will be strong enough, you ask yourself about the hopes, the fears, the discomfort, often about the despair of those who expect answers from you – from you before all the others. What I used to say to myself at the time was that the best way to be close to the country was to do my best, to try “each day as if it were the last day” to seek solutions to the problems, in respect of a society so deeply wounded by crisis. All this, without yielding to the temptation to wield the word as a mere expedient to reach consent or to tell Italy something different from truth.

Taken from Going Together, Going Away

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