Fighting intolerance by popping our filter bubbles

It’s Political Crunch Time in the Netherlands.

Just two more days before election day. I am ready. I have decided. I know who I’m going for, or at least which party, which in itself is a mini victory as we have about twenty political parties to choose from this time around…

As many places in the world, our country is going through a phase of polarization. It’s not so much “left and right” anymore, though… The logical question to ask is: Ok, if it’s not about left- and right-wing politics, what is it about? Well… I can’t explain that in just one sentence, because it took me some time to figure out… In fact, I think I will need more than one blog for this.

Let me start by pointing out the white elephant in the room:

Geert Wilders.

geert wilders tulp.jpgThis man is quite something.

I know many people say he’s the Dutch Donald Trump but I really think that gives him too little credit. Contrary to the Donald, I actually don’t dislike Geert Wilders as a person. He does quite well in one-on-one interviews and is a very talented speaker. I think he is a much better politician than the current POTUS and deserves some props for that.

I dislike him in debates, that’s for sure. What happens is that he gets so fired up, that he degrades any good argument he may have had into a vulgar mud slinging contest. I do get it though. I mean, it must be incredibly frustrating to have practically every single person in parliament go against your propositions and ideas, sometimes purely on principle…  But still… Not chic…

I can not deny I feel sorry for him as well. His ideas have put him in a position where he needs security 24/7, preventing him from conducting politics in the same fashion his colleagues can. He can not simply go out and shake hands with people on a random market place, even though I believe he would like to.

bruce hulk.jpgAll though I can follow his rhetoric up to a certain degree when he explains it calmly in interviews such as this one for Europa Magazin, he completely loses me with the way he chooses to bring it across at rallies and debates. I can sympathize with his Bruce Banner version but he seems to prefer the Hulk, which is nasty, ugly and rude.

Until this morning, I had nothing positive to say about Geert Wilders, besides feeling pity for his security issues and the burden this must be on him and his family. But I made an effort to truly look into this guy, who is so easy to dislike. So many people apparently agree with him that I felt I should at least try to get it. At least one honest look. So I took off my filtered glasses just for a bit and started reading, watching and listening.

All though I have always tried to be conscious of the fact that my reality is based on how I was brought up and which lessons I was taught, it has been increasingly difficult to sympathize with the “Trump voters” across the pond and the “Wilders voters” in my own country. It’s so easy to just dismiss them as “angry white men”. The shameful murmurations inside of me about the ignorantes who don’t know what’s good for themselves nor for the greater good, can hardly withstand the light of day…

Last weekend though, I read an article about the phenomenon of “filter bubbles”. It wasn’t something that was new to me but for some reason it really hit home at that moment. I realized how unfair I was being and that I really needed to read news from other news sources and open my mind to the Wilders voters, even if they may not be prepared to show me the same courtesy. Or was that just an unjust preconception as well?

I watched several full length interviews with Geert Wilders and read articles I would otherwise have dismissed as populist propaganda or clicked away from in annoyance, without even giving it a listen.

And boy is it important to do this every now and then. Because it turns out we’re all actually not that different from one another and essentially want the same things. I know, shocking right?

And do you know what? Don’t take my word for it. Go figure it out yourself!

I recommend it.

Having said that, I’m still not voting for the guy. I disagree with him on many different levels, which I will not be going into right now (but maybe after the election results are in). But at least now I know why and can look myself in the eye when I stand up for my version of what is right.

quote-spend-5-minutes-at-the-beginning-of-each-day-remembering-we-all-want-the-same-things-dalai-lama-53-96-23.jpg

Beware of the Chinaman (and his money)!

argument shadowsThe other day I had a disagreement with one of my best friends, let’s refer to her as Annie, that lasted no more than ten minutes but has been bothering me ever since. I’m not sure if it’s fair to play the Frisian card, but after digesting my annoyance with her for a couple of days I am tended to do just that.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Friesland. I spent the greatest part of my teen years there and am always happy to go back. However, it is also a very unforgiving place. Not only is the wide emptiness of its landscape overwhelming to city slickers, but it’s harshness can also be felt in its people.

The blow up
I’m sure this disagreement I had with Annie will sound incredibly silly to many of you and you wouldn’t even be wrong. But bare with me, I’ll lift it to a more abstract level further on that might (or might not) make it sound less petty. If you’re not in the mood to read about a childish disagreement between two grown women, skip ahead to the analysis, down by the Snoopy cartoon. I totally would. 😉

Anyway, it started out with us chatting about soccer, and SC Heerenveen more specifically. They haven’t been doing so well lately and on top of that the club’s board of directors is struggling with internal conflicts and childish name calling.

While I was with Annie one of the members of the board, Mr Hettinga, resigned. In his announcement he said his position had been put up for discussion and he felt there was no longer enough support for him to be able to stay on. He also described threats he had received in recent days but he felt the final straw break the camel’s back when angry “fans” had come to express their anger at his home and threatened his family.

I must admit, Annie is way more into the daily hustle and bustle of the club and often has more inside information than I do. She told me he was ruining the club and that if he had had his way there would have been no more Heerenveen. She said his resignation only demonstrated he had no true heart for the club and that his complaints about his safety reaffirmed he was self centered and a coward on top of that . My reaction was, “What the hell were supporters doing at his house!?”.

So how had he been damaging the club? Was he stealing money? Was he involved in some gambling scam? Was he selling off our best players with no profit for the club?

No, the issue was that he had dared speak to a Chinese company, who had shown interest in investing in the club…

Annie sent me the links of several newspaper articles to back her story up, but the more she showed me, the more I disagreed with her.

argument disagree rightI told her I was mostly disappointed in the fact that heerenveen fans were starting to behave like hooligans and that that was more damaging for the club than a guy discussing the possibilities for foreign investors.

She told me I didn’t know what I was talking about and that if Hettinga would have had his way there would have ended Heerenveen. She didn’t say “Heerenveen as we know it”. She was literally convinced the club would be wiped off the face of the planet…

I expressed my doubts about this. I told her that ruining the club was not in the interest of an investor. They want profit. I reminded her Heerenveen, like so many soccer clubs, had been struggling financially. Even though we may not like to see it that way the club is actually a business and if an investor offers to pump money into it, you would be irresponsible to NOT consider it.

When she noticed I didn’t share her hatred for mr Hettinga nor her fear for the Chinese, she made a quick attempt to change the subject. However, I wasn’t ready to let it go just yet.

And that’s when she exploded. She let all the sarcastic bile out of the bag and said something along the lines of “I guess you don’t care about the club anyway so why don’t you just hand in your membership card straight away and request a Cambuur membership card”. To understand how serious this remark is, you may want to read back the blog I wrote about the rivalry between these two clubs.

In short she was calling me a traitor…

Her reaction was so strong that it startled me. At the same time it made me giggle because it was so bloody ridiculous! I asked her, jokingly, if I should barricade my house now that I had dared disagree with her and her beloved newspaper (notorious for its crappy journalism, but I didn’t tell her that). She said maybe that wasn’t such a bad idea and might give some of those hooligans a call. We both laughed, but with clenched teeth…argument snoopy

Analysis
So…. What was this really about and why did I feel the urge to write about it here? After thinking on it for a while I decided you can boil it down to one word:

Xenophobia.

Such an ugly trait. Narrow minded and based on fear.

My friend Annie and I were raised very differently and we get along both despite and because of our differences. She is a farmer’s daughter and was the first one in her direct family to get on a plane. Her family were only OK with it because it was with me, and I understood the world. We have traveled long and far together, which is why it pains me to see I have not been able to rid her of this ridiculous fear of the unknown.

I have compared Frisians to hobbits before and I think the comparison still fits in this context. I believe it was Bilbo who wrote to his nephew:

It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.

Frisians have a similar attitude towards traveling. It’s mostly something you hear about from those black sheep in the family that dared wander beyond the border, where you can no longer see the town’s church tower. It’s endearing, in a way. But when it translates to wariness and mistrust of all things foreign, it becomes not only annoying but also dangerous. It makes a community close up like a clam or a fearful hedgehog with its spikes all out.

It impedes them from seeing beauty in new places. And even if they saw it, half of them would never dare admit it. It gives me a nasty taste in my mouth to think that my great friend can not overcome such pettiness and I guess I am disappointed I didn’t influence her as much as I thought I did.

And at the same time… It’s what I love about her. She’s strong willed and unapolagetic and I’m pretty sure next time we meet we’ll give each other a punch and a hug and continue on as we always did, because as the Chinese say:

Chinese proverb friends 1