Sesame Street characters, athletes and other celebrities, politicians, health care professionals, bots, government spokespeople, misfits and the marginalized, and ordinary, regular people share this in common: They’re victims or perpetrators of prejudice, hatred, lies, and deliberate misinformation.
Like Covid, malice and fear-mongering know no borders. Those of us who tried to escape the lunacy by moving to another country have learned history’s quintessential lesson: no matter how far we go, there’s no place to hide. Especially when complacency and discord blind us from recognizing the foes and fears that follow us.
Part of dealing with the challenges of our new lives abroad is coping with unresolved tensions we may have thought we’d left behind.
Or the insidiousness sprouting in hitherto peaceful places, as natives are infected by an onslaught of newcomers with nasty habits and not-so-hidden hubris.
While most of us were supported in our decision to relocate abroad, some of the people we know and don’t know – families, friends, even strangers – take issue with us for leaving the homeland. Their reasons are varied, but essentially boil down to certain considerations:
● Loss and Estrangement. Family and friends, especially, are disappointed that we’ll no longer be as accessible to them as we had been. They’re right! Despite connecting on social media, person-to-person audiovisual chats, phone calls, and occasional trips back to visit, our lives, thoughts, and activities increasingly are focused on our current – not former – environment. Sometimes, the emotions and logistics of planning visits are complicated, causing consternation and conflicts. Although some expats and immigrants have no second thoughts about returning to the country they left, others are so repulsed (and scared!) by the emotional climate and turmoil of their homeland that they ‘d rather not set foot there again. Trying to explain our resistance is an ongoing process.
● Situational Complications. While many of those closest to us would love to join us and live abroad, they can’t, due to reasons ranging from family commitments or entanglements to employment, education, health issues, etc. Their motivations and tugs-of-war with significant others in their own spheres aren’t as imperative as are ours. Genuinely happy about our decision to leave for greener pastures (cost of living, health care, safety and security, etc.) elsewhere, there’s a wee bit of apprehension and jealousy that we’re doing something they can’t. These scenarios are rife with opportunities for misunderstanding and/or miscommunication that can threaten the status of even the most well-meaning relationships.
● My Country Right or Wrong “Love it or leave it” may have been replaced by “stay and defend our rights” in the face of intolerable autocratic abuses, but the passions embodied by such catch phrases can be strong and and offensive. Other citizens can’t always understand how we do make our voices heard and votes count from abroad by contributing our time, talents, and resources to people and organizations we believe can make things better “over there.” We write letters to the editors of newspapers, magazines, websites, and blogs. We send emails and faxes to elected “representatives,” informing them of our perspectives regarding matters of consequence. Posting, commenting, responding, and sharing diplomatically on the “social” media, we join and participate in expat groups that represent our interests … maybe even marching and rallying to show our solidarity with others who believe as we do. We’re involved “back home” as registered overseas voters, encouraging others – wherever they live – to register and vote.
● Divisive Politics Arrogance and intimidation – the sincere belief that “we’re right and you’re not” – cannot be constrained by borders. These tears in the fabric of our social conscience and affiliated responsibilities have broken the ties that bound families and friends … regardless if an international move was involved or at issue. As we learn the language and culture of our new country and, in the process, become more involved in its welfare, we become aware that the politics of division – especially as fostered by the alt-right – permeate peoples everywhere. For now, however, despite the ticks and pricks of ultra-conservatives, the freedoms and benefits we enjoy in left-of-center countries appear to be strong and pervasive. Yet here, too, we must be vigilant and persevere.
● Belligerence and Retribution Throughout history, there always have been haters, people who resent others for whatever their reasons. But the access to unfettered podiums in Internet town squares reaching millions, and ability to hide behind social media’s anonymity – or, increasingly, not to – have given rise to attacks from people whose lives revolve around chaos, supremacy, conflict, and their crippling effects. They are resentful, hawkish (even if “Christian”), and waver between autocracy, anarchy, and annihilation. Hitherto fringe elements of civilized society, they are intent on making their way into the mainstream. Some are byproducts of others who seek to spread lies, misinformation, and other tactics designed to bring down democracy … even as others are real, repugnant, and reprehensible whisperers whose malevolent behavior creates havoc.
These aren’t the pleasant thoughts we want to dwell on as we plan and proceed with our international relocation; yet they are troubling concerns that – sooner or later – we will face in some shape or form, going hand-in-hand with the “new normal” that’s undermined civics and ethics and most everything that these words connote.
Be aware. Be polite. Be prepared.
Bruce Joffe is publisher and creative director of Portugal Living Magazine.