What keeps societies from falling apart is their members’ spontaneous and unforced compliance with unwritten laws, with principles that they do not even have to be reminded of in order to adhere to.
Values such as solidarity, altruism and hospitality may be set out in charters or schoolbooks. But that is of little consequence if it is not in a person to empathize with a stranger’s suffering. And when we say empathize, we mean standing by another person with actions, and not with vacuous, cost-free words.
Greece’s social fabric could have been ripped apart a long time ago under the pressure of the (still lingering) financial crisis. It would not have been surprising if egotism and antisocial self-interest had emerged as the sole “natural” reaction to the long chain of disappointments. After all, we live in an age of a neo-cynicism that propagates the “natural” and “unavoidable” character of social inequalities and the – also natural – character of offshore tax avoidance.
And yet, despite the difficulties, the unemployment, the underemployment, the falling wages and the devastating overtaxation, the crudeness of individualism has not managed to defeat our culture of solidarity. Its sirens failed to lure the many. The ordinary people. Those who keep a society glued together.
This failure became evident in the attitude of the majority toward the migrants and refugees. Sure, there were cases of bigotry, exploitation, even crude racism. How can one forget the xenophobic sermons from the lips of priests, those otherwise preachers of Christian love? But such behavior never became mainstream.
Altruism was also on display (in the same humble fashion) in the wake of the disastrous summer wildfires. And it is now again evident following the deadly flash floods in Mandra and Nea Peramos, on the western outskirts of Athens. Ordinary people have been offering help from their dwindling savings.
Help, in the form of manual labor (which is all they have to give), has also come from migrants and refugees. The Pakistanis and the Syrians who rushed to provide assistance in flood-stricken Mandra are also part of our society.
Similarly, we cannot deny the fact that the leadership of Golden Dawn, who organized a Greeks-only handout, despite their Christian pretensions, are also part of the same society. One had to wonder if the Arvanite Greeks (Christian Albanians who migrated to Greece in the Middle Ages) who live in the area were entitled to aid coming from the members of the country’s neo-fascist party.