Sunday, September 15, 2013

The process of change

DSC00081 (1200x900)I’m on the ferry back to the UK this morning: forecasters predicted gale-force winds and high seas on the Channel today, but the reality is sunny and calm.  People doze in the early morning light, dip zachte croissants in sterke coffee, murmur and laugh together.  Peaceful.

I’m catching up with some long-form reading, an article in the FT about societal change.

In my youth, the Dutch thought of themselves as a “guide land”: a sort of advanced model for dimmer countries to follow. I thought this was absurdly smug, but now I see they were right. The Dutch invented much of the world of 2013: bicycles in cities, legal soft drugs and gay marriage.”

I wonder, she concludes, which country has taken over as the brilliant social laboratory to the world.

It’s hard to keep making changes: at some point, people get weary of the costs of adapting and the consequences of failed experiments.  While still one of the happiest places on earth outside of Disneyland, the PrinsjesdagDutch are getting increasingly cranky with their faltering housing market,onerous austerity, and fractious politics. The new King made an unusually frank and controversial speech on Prinsjesdag Troonrede, his annual speech in the Hall of Knights in the Hague, calling for a more “participatory society’ where “citizens will be expected to take care of themselves’, asking less of the State.

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DSC09567It’s been a season of change for me as well: a disastrous first half to 2013 that has mandated significant transformation in my life.  I’ve found that both the diagnosis of problem and the form of solution is relatively straightforward to specify and negotiate.  It’s the day-to-day interactive, consistent implementation of new rules that is hard.

It’s a lot like trying to express myself in Dutch.  There is a simple thought that I want to share.  Then I have to choose the words, arrange them properly, select the right tenses, figure out the pronunciation, say it, explain it, correct it, smile apologetically for any mistakes…

The only way to make any progress is to go slowly, deliberately, check for understanding and agreement, learn from mistakes, and keep a good humor. But that is a lot of stress and strain overlaying the task of simply saying what I want to say.

Similarly with making changes in social and business style, slowing down, listening, engaging, balans en grenz.  I know what I need to do, but actually doing it requires concentration, emotional damping, and deliberate care.  And I, too, tire of the costs of adapting and the consequences of failed experiments.   It’s always tempting to take a short cut, run rogue, and drop the whole project.

Part of the problem is the total lack of proper role models for  transitioning from work-life to peaceful-life.  Growing up, we have all sorts of professional, media,and family examples to emulate.  In our 50’s, there seem to be only ‘I don’t want to end up like that’ models ahead of us.

So, to paraphrase,

Who takes over as the brilliant social laboratory for finding ways to live a full and happy life?

willemOr, as King Willem said,

Wanneer mensen zelf vorm geven aan hun toekomst, voegen zij niet alleen waarde toe aan hun eigen leven, maar ook aan de samenleving als geheel.

When people take responsibility to shape their own future, they add value to their own lives and also to society as a whole.

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