What lies beneath

By Marion Robinson

A recent conversation I had with a middle-aged Dutch man came to a stalemate when I asked him the question: ‘What do you think people in the Netherlands need the most?’ Perhaps to him this question seemed almost too philosophical – or too esoteric at the least – to be answered on a rainy Saturday afternoon when most people would rather lose themselves in things that require no conscious thought.

Ironically, the weekend newspaper that he was reading, with all its varied accounts of Dutch life, news, views and happenings, gave him no other clue to an answer to the question outside of ‘I don’t know’.

But why should he know? Why should anyone concern themselves with knowledge that they will never use? Perhaps having an understanding of, or being able to make an educated guess about what the general needs are of people in the Netherlands should be reserved only for political representatives, social workers or the religious leaders of the country.

Perhaps it is in the best interest of all concerned to allow those who have been given the responsibility of having this knowledge to do their job.

In truth, my own observations have led me to agree that life in the Netherlands seem to follow a systematic, compartmentalized framework with little or no overlap in function (and at times communication) between the various arms of the same body. Larger companies manufacture employees with specialized thinking and narrowed focal points based on departmental philosophies while neglecting the big-picture of the company as a whole.

In the same way, individuals in the Dutch society appear to create their own unwritten philosophy about the square inches that make up their own home or their own cubicle space at work with little need to know more about what lies beyond it. This invisible, unspoken but well-pronounced and well-understood demarcation is sure to result in an ‘I don’t know’ response to questions concerning the needs of others.

But I concede that perhaps the answer was an attempt to escape my line of questioning and to continue indulging, uninterrupted. So I challenge you to produce your own response: What do you think people in the Netherlands need the most?

If we don’t know the needs of the people in the society we live in, if we don’t dare (or care) to take a closer look at what lies beneath the façade of a well-organized society, how can we become part of the solution?

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