Time we walk the walk
Last night, Thursday October 08 2009, I attended a town hall meeting — Dutch style. Meaning, the lively interactions you see reporting Obama’s town hall meetings; well, we here in the Netherlands boil it down to a reception of warm tomato soup and bread rolls, the usual coffee and tea and polder model type discussions.
The meeting Handvest Burgerschap (Charter Citizenship) in Rotterdam yesterday was the last of eleven widespread sessions throughout the country. The main purpose was coming together and discussing our communities.
Giving the participants something to go on, the sessions were structured around four main themes: Respect, Commitment, Future-oriented and Servicing Society.
Engaging the masses
The idea of engaging the masses in the political spectrum appeals to me. I first heard of the initiative earlier this year, when the minister of Interior and Kingdom Relations Guusje ter Horst mentioned it on in the television program Buitenhof.
Hoping it to be more than a subtle PR stunt of the cabinet, I left work for the meeting. My train was delayed and by the time I got there, I missed out on the soup and bread reception and only caught a short glimpse of the introductory video clip. But, I was just in time to be assigned to the subgroup discussing the topic Future-oriented.
Responsible, conscious and reflective
Our group leader, Jan Schrijver, invited us to let go of the outline set in the booklet received, and to have an open discussion. Seeing the diversity of our group in age and social ethnic background, starting out discussing the future, we ‘naturally’ ended up discussing: the loss of (traditional) family values; the working modern day woman; the Dutch (in)tolerance; fear of meddling and getting yourself in trouble; indifference towards our fellowmen and a possible (digital) generation gap.
Trying to capture the leitmotif of our discussion, we came up with:
- We need to feel responsible once more for our fellowmen.
- We should try to be conscious of our surroundings.
- We must reflect on our actions and the consequences thereof.
Interesting enough, this also somewhat summarised the discussions of the other subgroups. So, when we gathered again for the plenary round-up, there was a room of people, all filled with good intentions. All believing we need to respect our neighbours, show some compassion and be responsible.
Common dominator: fear
Looking at what the groups jotted down on the flip-over, there was also another common denominator: fear. We all agree we should help those in need. We all know we are also responsible for the wellbeing of our fellowmen. Yet we don’t follow up on it. Fearing to be hustled or worse, beaten up and left for dead.
So when someone needs our help, we’re so afraid, we either just stand there and sheepishly look on while the victim is beaten to pulp or we quickly move on. Avoiding eye-contact with the perpetrator. Hoping he doesn’t notice us and turn on us too.
So now what?
The whole evening reminded me of the piece I wrote in late July Everyday heroes. All those present are filled with good intentions. All wanting to be responsible and good Samaritans. Yet all frozen with fear, and not acting on it.
One thing I’m hoping this evening will bring, is that we stop talking the talk and start walking the walk. This goes for both the participants (yes, including myself) and the authorities.
Don’t say we should be helping our neighbour, let’s just help our neighbour. And having discussions like these is a good thing. But it’s not enough. The authorities need to actually follow up on it. Not just write another report, but translate our ideas into legislations we can relate to.
It’s high time. And such a shame if it’s (again) all talk — no walk.
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