Monday, July 18, 2005

What's Wrong With The Dutch

I live in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where a large number of Hollanders settled upon leaving their imperfect homeland for a better land. They've enriched the west side of Michigan by their presence. (And I'm not being sarcastic.) But I have a problem with the Dutch.

Same problem with Dr. Laura. I think a lot of Grand Rapids Dutch people like Dr. Laura. I quit listening to Dr. Laura when a woman called who was distraught, consumed with guilt after having broken one of the Ten Commandments. (About which Dr. Laura wrote a very good book I used in my Baptist Sunday School class several years back.) What made me turn off Dr. Laura was her reply to the guilt-consumed woman: You did it. Suffer. (She probably said something kinder, but that's what I heard.)

Dr. Laura is right to condemn Christians for being too quick to forgive or expect forgiveness. Catholics with their crucifixen helpfully remind us that though grace is free, its price is infinite.

But humans are only human and certain reasonable accommodations are in order when you live in this fallen world. Human nature is flawed and humans make mistakes. Sometimes humans choose an expedient over the right thing.

Obviously, one can lose weight by eating less and exercizing more. The mere application of the will and self-control suffices to make one lean and strong. I have a friend of Dutch descent who accurately put forth this opinion when I went on an Atkins kick. And he's right. Ask Ten Dutchmen and you will hear the right answer. I like being around folks of Dutch descent because they keep me sharp and keep me trying 100% to stay on top of things. My complaint here is that being right isn't enough.

At my writers' group I was chatting with a friend of Dutch descent and the topic of children in public came up. Ah yes. I recall how it was when my kids were very young and what it was like taking them out in public. A harrowing affair. My attitude toward parents with misbehaving children changed when I saw how difficult it was to keep rein on my own tykes. No, my kids were all very well behaved, but the peril that they might not struck fear into my heart. Mindful of this, I'm more inclined to shrug when kids slip the leash of their parents' iron discipline.

It's said that Germans make no small mistakes. Since everyone makes mistakes, that should hint at the kind of mistakes that Germans make. And I think Dutch and the Germans are a lot alike. (Being of both Dutch and German ancestry, there's a lot of that in me.)

Having described the behaviours of the Dutch that trouble me, I'll try to explain what I think the problem is. Let me explain.

A decade back I bought a book entitled "Design Patterns." I gave it a quick skim and put it on my bookshelf. I noted the chapter headings and a few buzzwords. Design Patterns are cool and I'd feel a bit of a poseur if the topic came up. I knew of patterns better than I knew patterns. I never had a need to use patterns and if I did, I'd learn then. It wasn't that the book wasn't interesting. It's just that the book was a little bit like a dictionary or an encyclopedia. Something you read when you're in high school on a lazy summer day and you're bored. Thus the book's excellent contents never made it from the bookshelf into my brain.

My boss went on a trip and he read another book on the plane. "Head First Design Patterns" He came back and bought a copy for everyone in his department. My first reaction was an eye-roll. "This stuff is fluff," I thought. But the publisher was O'Reilly. I read the first chapter and it consisted of an apology for the fluffy appearance of pictures and cartoons, etc. Ferinstance, it told me to drink lots of water so my brain would work better. And it got across the point that if the info in the book didn't make it into my brain, the book failed in its purpose.

That's what I think is wrong with the Dutch. They (we) fail to take imperfect human nature into account. Like Dr. Laura they throw up their hands in the face of human failings. Seeing this response to failure motivates those around them. If you haven't failed this time around, you'll be terrified into making sure you don't fail next time around. Or maybe you just shut down in response.

My whole point is effectiveness. People are motivated by high standards. The Dutch set high standards. When standards are too high, standards demotivate and discourage. What's wrong with the Dutch is they can forget to take imperfect human nature into account and act accordingly. The Heads First book lowers its sights to accommodate the shortened attention spans of harried software professionals. Thus it accomplishes something The Gang Of Four didn't.

For further reading:

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You are absolutly right. I leave in the Netherlands and I think that the Dutch tend to act like robots and communicate like robots. This is the reason why most of them end up frustrated with themselves or the others. They have a HUGE problem of communication. People are really scared to be theselves. By the way, this country never produces any great mind of its history, this is normal as they spend their life damaging their life by trying to act like robots.