In ‘Liekuut’, which is the Groningen dialect for straight ahead or straightforward, we regularly share the perspective of one of our academics on a topical issue. This is how we show that UG researchers contribute to the societal debate.
It is election time, which means politicians are trying to win over voters. Promises, plans, and solutions for every single problem abound. But, will voting for the right person with the right plan really help us in the long run? Michel Dückers, Professor by special appointment of Crises, Safety and Health at the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences of the University of Groningen, is not convinced. In order to really get somewhere we need to do a lot more: to accept the current state of affairs and to adopt a long-term perspective. That is true for society as well as politics.
‘We live in a safe, stable country here in the Netherlands. There is little corruption within the government, there is access to education, good health care, and a lot of prosperity. We have high expectations of ourselves, of life, and of our government. We expect, for example, that the next generation will have the same or even more opportunities than the previous generation; that we’ll be able to buy a house, provide for our family with our income, and that we’ll be protected from natural disasters. We’re not prepared to accept that things can go wrong for no reason, and when they do go wrong we expect the government to make a significant effort to serve our needs and solve our problems. Those expectations aren’t that strange – we are used to a certain standard and we have our own ‘normal’ – but they do hinder us. When we unexpectedly face challenges that can’t be solved right away, such as rising healthcare costs and energy prices, the housing crisis, or climate change, we don't really know how to deal with it. In fact, our prosperity actually makes us vulnerable in a way.’
‘This vulnerability is a paradox. Scientific research has shown that depression, anxiety disorders, and suicide are more prevalent in safe, stable, and prosperous countries. That is remarkable, as you might expect this to occur more in countries that are less prosperous. Of course, mental healthcare is relatively accessible in the Netherlands, which increases the chance of a professional diagnosis. Moreover, talking about mental health issues is not so much of a taboo in the Netherlands. Beyond exposure to various shocking events, the population context poses a risk as well: our prosperity doesn't protect us. It is difficult to say why this is the case. It could be because, as mentioned before, we have high expectations of ourselves and our lives, or because we live in quite an individualistic society, which means we experience less social support. Regardless, it seems that we are collectively missing a certain resilience, because we are used to stability and prosperity. This isn't strange, but it won't help us solve any crises.’
‘It's clear that the expectations we have are becoming increasingly less realistic, and that the problems we are facing can't be solved within one parliamentary term. So what can we do? I suggest we start with acceptance. That is the essence of many psychological treatments: to accept that what is happening right now is just a setback, and that it will probably also take a while before matters improve. We can't solve all kinds of crises with just the flick of a hand. Denial or resistance won't help us. At the moment, this is what it is. As said, we should focus on the long term as well, and accept that in the short term we will probably get hurt. Then we need to get going, even though we are hindering ourselves at that.’
‘That is also where the political challenge lies. We’d rather not be told that the solutions to our problems are complex, that compromise is needed, and that we have to make concessions. It's much easier to promise us free beer, because that's easier for us to go along with. Yet, we are disappointed, critical, and angry when elected representatives make inevitable compromises and the solutions after all take longer than we had hoped. In order to handle a crisis we need hope and perspective. Good leadership can provide this. We need politicians who are complete and honest in what they say. Politicians who don't just give catchy, simple yet incorrect answers, but who prefer to speak correct and complex truths. Politicians who don't promise us that they can solve our problems right away, but who do promise us that they will do their very best to do so. If politicians start doing that, and if we then promise to listen, we could really get somewhere.’
Overview of all 'Liekuut' opinion pieces.
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