Learn to live with uncertainty

The times in which we are living are not easy. If you make a comparison between on the one hand a simple life in a small village, where people mainly have the same cultural and religious background, where people know each other, where you help your neighbour / your family when they are sick or hungry; and on the other hand the big cities where totally different people are living mixed, with cultures and religions which are totally strange to you, where your family is far away, you don’t see them much, and your neighbours you don’t know. Some people are found dead in their apartment after 3 weeks. Nobody missed them, nobody came to take a look. When cartoons with jokes about a prophet are published in Denmark, protests arise all over the world. What happens in one place becomes known very fast on the other side of the world, and what happens at one place affects the rest of the world. Many of the faces we see are in a virtual world or on the television, far away. Instead of being concerned about a sick child of my neighbour, for instance, I may be concerned about the conflict in the Middle East, I may be concerned for instance about the lives of Palestinians in the occupied areas. I am having discussions about that with people from all over the world, whom I have never met in real life, on online discussion platforms.

So we are living in a globalised fast changing world with big contrasts. When I walk in Rotterdam or Amsterdam, in some parts I feel a stranger. I could be in “Little Morocco” or “Little Surinam”. I hear languages I don’t understand, I see strange clothes, strange food, strange music. Personally I have the advantage that I am very curious by nature to get to know other cultures, I don’t see it as a threat and I don’t care much when I see that in such quarters the Dutch culture became a small minority.
But on the other hand I can see that our new society, in the big cities, is not unproblematic. The desolated look of the city, the poverty, the separation between different groups, polarisation, growing fear and hate; radicalisation, not only among Muslims / immigrants but very clearly as well among atheists / the Dutch (in a different direction). With a high chance of unemployment, the feeling of not being accepted in the society, parents and schools which loose grip on youngsters, bad influence of peers, a kind of complete indifference, there is a big group of second and third generation immigrant children to be worried about, of how they can obtain a normal place in the society, instead of dropping out of it.

We have to live with differences, we have to find a way to understand and accept the people in our society who are totally different, we have to find a way to take each other into account, not to harm each other. We cannot go back to the small familiar world of an isolated little village. Globalisation is a process which cannot be turned back or stopped. We don’t want to go back to a traditional family life with strong social control, we like our individual freedom, to choose the life we want.
But we don’t know how to deal with the increased uncertainty yet. When a stranger enters that isolated little village, he or she will attract a lot of attention. People will be curious, but they will also be a little afraid of that unknown being who is so different, you don’t know what to expect from him. And you probably find him crazy and stupid, because he is behaving so weird, not normally like all of us in the village. Maybe, if he decides to come and live in the village permanently, you will never fully accept him, maybe he will always remain an outsider. And that is what is happening on a very large scale in the big cities in multicultural societies. And in fact this non-acceptance towards strangers is also strongly present in online discussion platforms, although it is unclear in this non-physical world who is the stranger and who is the native, that just depends on the perspective.

How are we going to deal with the uncertainty of not knowing what to expect from all these strangers around us? How are we going to deal with the lack of solidarity, the loneliness and having to cope with many things all by yourself in this individualised world? People tend to desperately grasp to the lost certainties. This crazy unknown stranger, he might be dangerous, he may be a threat to our cute little village. So he should be kicked out. Everything that makes our lives uncertain and possibly unsafe, should be avoided. We long back for the time when the world was small and easy to understand, familiar and safe. We say we should be more strict and allow less foreigners to enter the country. We stress that the foreigners should become like the Dutch as soon as possible. Wilders becomes really worried when two Muslims (young, moderate, modern Muslims) have entered the Dutch government. Wilders wants Dutch Muslims to tear half of the pages out of the Quran.
Everything which is strange to us is dangerous. We should protect ourselves, our identity, everything that makes us feel uncertain, all of that we should get rid of.

But this is a totally wrong and very dangerous approach. We just have to accept that the uncertainties won’t disappear anymore. Our society will remain multi-cultural for many generations to come. We can long for a monoculture but the reality is that the society will remain pluralistic. We can long for clear standards and values, where youngsters obey to authority, where we respect each other and act with decency. We can long for the good old days, but they won’t come back. Instead we have to learn to live with the new uncertainties. We have to develop intercultural skills to be able to understand other cultures, to be able to work together in a culturally diverse team. We should not be afraid of strangers, we should go out and meet them. Once we get to know them they can become familiar to us, just like the people of our little village.

The uncertainty can be overcome by increasing the contacts between cultures, by counteracting the segregation and polarisation. Fear and hate for strangers is good for nothing, it makes that people start to think in black-and-white, us and them. The other becomes the enemy that should be destroyed. This leads to war. To desperately try to avoid uncertainty, in a globalised world where this is in fact impossible, is a dead end street.

The only way we can make something of our multi-cultural society, both in the offline and online world, is together. So let’s make a start with that today :)

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