Dear Adriaan,

Your focus is on open and closed communities and the leadership challenge we face to find or create bridges to relate to different people and cultures. I feel very much the same urgency. Looking back to my life experiences I am also convinced about the deep joy and fulfillment of meeting people from circles I am not familiar with.

I observe the power of closing the borders, building walls and other barriers against ‘strangers’ and ‘outsiders’. Almost everyday there is news to read and to watch about country leaders, supported by the people, who try to exclude what is ‘not one of us’.

In this week of writing my blog we could see in Poland how the upper house of parliament has approved a supreme court overhaul, defying the EU and critics at home who say the legislation will undermine democratic checks and balances. Tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Warsaw and cities across Poland for candlelit vigils to protest against the draft bill, as the senate debated it late into the night. Some protesters carried Polish and European Union flags, chanting: “Free courts.” (The Guardian, July 22, 2017). Europe is a culture of interaction between people of different countries, the ponderously striving for compromises between opposite parties. This culture is always accompanied by feelings of uncertainty, impatience, taking the losses, the necessity to see the interest of your opponent. And maybe a majority of the Polish people can’t accept this as a reality to live with. They can’t see the advantage of it. This is just one example out of many.

For this reason we should, as you wrote at the end of your blog, stimulate the dialogue between people, based on the vision that the other could be my teacher and I can help the other to make a meaningful step.

As I mentioned above there is also joy in meeting people with other thoughts, emotions and behavior. I grew up in a christian environment: family, school, church, university. I have been a minister in the church for 12 years, so this was very familiar for me. But I always liked very much the encounters with non-believers. I really was very curious about their values and questions. When I did my PhD in theology, I was highly interested in Friedrich Nietzsche, a philosopher from the 19th century, who called himself the enemy of the christian religion. I did not see him as my enemy but as an enriching sparring partner, which he still is to me.

I listened, earlier this week to a well known Dutch writer of children’s books, Francien Oomen. She mentioned the results of an interesting research in 2016. Professor Diana Mutz of the Pennsilvania University did research on the effect of reading the Harry Potter books on young people. She discovered that their opinion about mr. Donald Trump was more negative compared to a similar group who had not read those books. And the Harry Potter fans were more tolerant and open minded to foreigners, refugees and strange people. So by reading the Harry Potter books they learned to open up their soul to people and worlds that don’t belong to the reality they were familiar with. I like the idea of reading stories as a kind of ‘healthy and tasty soul food’. 

Adriaan, this is for me an important question: How to learn to open your soul to other, different people? What do you think? How can we experience the benefit, maybe the profit of living in an open community?

Klaas IJkema


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