The move towards the independence of Catalonia is proceeding at an incredible speed. Catalonia might not be a separate country yet, but thousands, if not millions, of Catalonians’ hearts have already left Spain. The events in Catalonia erupted on our multiple digital screens in September. While millions of Spaniards tweeted and shared Snapchat and Facebook messages, the Spanish government and traditional parties seemed silent. Still anchored in an analogue world, they spent their time reviewing press releases to be approved by their hierarchies. Twitter accounts seemed dead. Spanish hearts were torn, and they were listening to the hearts of others.

We are all aware that we are saying goodbye to the world that communicates via nightly news and newspaper front covers. Now there is another world that is growing at an incredible speed, making us realize that communication is 'on demand'. We don’t read an entire newspaper anymore – we don’t read the government’s press releases even if they come to us via Twitter. We read 140 characters and ask for a podcast or TV interview 'on demand', when it fits into our schedule. The images of violence surrounding the Catalan referendum reopened the wounds of the civil war from our grandparents' time. The hearts of many Spaniards cried in pain and fear, through embarrassment and sadness. And when the images were still present in our hearts, the Spanish king addressed the nation on television to chastise the Catalan president, Carles Puigdemont, for attempting to break the 'unity of Spain'. The king made no mention of the violence that had marred the referendum.

Immediately after the monarch’s address, millions of tweets and WhatsApp messages were shared. Puigdemont decided just to retweet the messages of left-wing national Spanish and Catalan parties that openly expressed their disappointment at the lack of empathy shown by the monarch. The Spanish prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, remained quiet. Hours later, he only tweeted the Government’s press release. The head of the PSOE party, remained quiet as well. Later, he only tweeted the party’s press release. Both parties have ruled the country during its first 40 years of democracy and from a communication point of view, seemed to weight a heavy past. It is via social media that the 'tribe', those we identify ourselves with, express their ideology. WhatsApp groups, Telegram, Facebook and Instagram have replaced the 'plazas' that once were the hubs of citizen’s everyday lives.  But still, it seems safer to agree with your social media tribe and stay united ideologically, even if you know that the facts are wrong, than to disagree and isolate yourself from friends, colleagues and those close to you.

How to challenge the tribe without losing support? Stories of love and of common experiences shared are how we identify ourselves with them. Speaking with an open heart, which can make us seem so vulnerable, is actually the strongest move of all. Telling the truth – in particular the facts of one's experiences, which no one can disprove – with simplicity and sincerity, and without contentiousness or blame, has great moral force. When a child tells its parents 'I feel bad when you fight', there is no need for facts. Like myself, millions of young Spaniards and Catalans have left the country in the last 8 years. They escaped a 50% youth unemployment rate that meant no future. I have had two children since leaving Spain in my early 30s. A full-time job in Vienna has provided me with the stability that my Spanish friends, now in their 40s, have not been able to enjoy. Many of my girlfriends in Barcelona and Madrid have surrendered their dream to have children as they just couldn’t provide for them.  

Now is not the right time to discuss the facts. The lack of legality of the Catalan Parliament’s acts and the economic consequences of Catalan independence are not reasons that hearts listen to. The issue of Catalan independence cannot be resolved with our intellect. It is only through our ability to feel that we can start talking about how much it hurts to see what’s happening, and how much this lose–lose situation can only hurt us all the more. The dialogue needs to start by feeling empathy for the Catalans that want independence. It needs to continue by understanding that we are all in Spain suffering the same economic consequences of a crisis that we did not create. By dividing people into groups of any kind, we instinctively become less empathetic to members of other groups. Only by opening our hearts can we start a dialogue.

Blanca Tapia is former press officer of the OSCE worked many years as a journalist. Do you have comments or questions? Reach out at @BlancaTapiaC