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Time to re-establish trust in a rapidly changing world

by
01 January 2016, at 12:00am

The Mercury Column, in which a guest columnist takes the temperature of the profession – and the world around.

IN early July 2016, the ISFM will hold its annual European feline conference in Malta and, if other years’ experience is anything to go by, around 500 vets from more than 30 countries will come along to celebrate their interest in feline medicine.

I have been offered the privilege of visiting the venue several months in advance and, as I write this, sitting on the balcony of my hotel room I can see way out across the azure Mediterranean with only the sea birds and passing yachts to interrupt the view.

In the central Mediterranean between Sicily and the North African coast, Malta is a nation whose historic sites have known a succession of rulers including the Romans, Moors, Knights of St John, French and the British. Its rocky shoreline promises a fascinating history dating back to 3600BC and, despite the fact that the islands cover little more than a hundred square miles, the ancestors of its almost half-a-million residents have played a significant part in shaping the world’s history.

At the same time as I sit here enjoying the winter sunshine, our Parliament is debating the thorny issue of escalating British military involvement in Syria. It’s hard to contemplate that the world has changed quite so much in recent years and that the tensions that existed before the current crisis might be put to one side while we all face a common threat, not from a warmongering tribe or nation as our entire history has done before now but from a challenging ideology whose values seem to most us impossible to comprehend.

Instead of representing a strategic base for military operations as it has done since the Crusades, Malta now offers a safe haven for the desperate souls who set off in tiny boats to escape the harshness of life in Libya, Syria and other countries in the North African region and, tragically, its deep harbour in Valetta is one of very few places in the whole Mediterranean that can temporarily accommodate the draught of warships dispatched to salvage those who failed to make the journey successfully.

Tomorrow I’ll be back at home, far away from swaying palm trees, trying like everyone else to make sense of events and taking on board the consequences of the political decisions our elected representatives have had to make, whichever way they vote.

Uncertain times

Like everyone else, we’ll each be trying to earn a living and conduct our lives in an uncertain new world order. We talk glibly about the British stiff upper lip and the spirit of the Blitz demonstrated by our own forebears in difficult times but, watching the news coverage from around Europe, none of us can have failed to note the resilience and resolution of those whose daily lives have been turned upside down in an instant.

Clearly, when under threat, the human condition is to adapt and to accommodate change. Much of life is a balancing act and if, on the one hand, we are absorbing change and getting on with life, as we must, it’s not hard to see that, in counterbalance, we are also seeking the reassurance of familiar things, places and experiences.

I don’t think that Europeans, including the British, will want to be like our American colleagues and eschew all travel to minimise the risks. I suspect that even though cities like Brussels, Paris and Lyon have recently cancelled events and mass gatherings, we all realise that a rapid resolution to this crisis will not be forthcoming and that a return to “normality” will inevitably reappear.

What we will all seek, whether consciously or unconsciously, will be the comfort of what is known and valued in our activities and relationships moving forward. No one seeks to make capital out of fear and disruption but it is important that we retain the position of being a valued and respected part of the communities in which our businesses operate. 

We have long enjoyed the trust of our client base, whether that be in the equine, farm or pet sectors and I suspect that, deep down, people would still prefer to deal with a receptive and responsive human rather than the intangible cyberspace of the internet, whether faced with an issue of medical concern or simply background information.

Of course, we need to charge appropriately for our products and services but taking a fresh look at the tonality of our customer service and the willingness with which we dispense information without linking that to material gain costs us nothing and could be a major part of re-establishing a proactive relationship with people and their animals whom we may not have seen for some time.

The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca is famed for remarking that there is little point in getting involved in an action unless one thinks that one can make a material difference to the outcome and, in reality, none of us can individually affect the diaspora of desperate refugees or the continuing vigilance over our cities’ streets but there is a real opportunity to reinforce the values which we do hold dear and to re-engage with people whom we lost touch with.

In a veterinary business sense, they may no longer have an animal to be under our care but, for those who do, they didn’t leave that position because they were happy with what we offered them.

A little introspection seems a small price to pay if it re-establishes trust which, itself, has more recently become a simply invaluable commodity.