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Humble in Amsterdam

19 July 2013

I AM flying to the Netherlands from London City Airport. But this is not a holiday. I'm off to meet some Dutch bankers and encourage them to listen to themselves. Is this wise?

I have been told what to expect by a Dutch friend: "The Dutch are very tall, Simon. Keep them sitting down." (Could my authority be undermined by the sheer size of these people?) "The other thing is," my friend says, "the Dutch are much healthier, psychologically, than the English: less dysfunctional and fractured. Even the psychopaths are more rounded." What place is this, which boasts even a better class of psychopath?

I arrive at Schipol airport and it is sunshine and blue skies. I mention this to a banker on my arrival at the venue, 20 miles north of Amsterdam. "It was like landing in Greece," I say cheerily. "As long as that's the only similarity," the banker says, darkly.

On my way from the airport, I had noticed that everyone in the Netherlands cycles, and cycles joyfully. Dutch cyclists look less stressed than English ones. And the bankers prove a delight to work with.

I start by thanking them for allowing me to speak in my own language. I am in their country, but they allow me to speak to them in English. If we had been dependent on my Dutch, it would have been a different event. Mind you, there is a lot to be said for silent retreats.

The day before, they had been taken to various social projects in the red-light district of Amsterdam, including a Salvation Army hostel. Where two worlds meet, nothing is the same again, and, as the project leader Mark Spraagen said, "These two worlds are really part of one world."

Labels usually mislead, and they do here in Holland; for these dear souls are human beings before they are bankers, and, as the morning goes on, they are clearly parents before they are bankers as well. Our time is spent considering their humanity, and how goodness can survive and thrive in business. We reflect on the difference between tough and strong. And, interestingly, what to do with teenage children.

I had started with some words from Meister Eckhart: "To the one who knows nothing, all is clearly revealed." It is good to dismantle our precious opinions before pro-ceeding, since our opinions hold us back and waste other people's time. But there was a nice humility in this group, given that many must have been wondering why on earth they were doing this, when they could be making an important conference call to Brazil. Meister Eckhart would have enjoyed it.

I am now back in dysfunctional and fractured London, noting that in my journey to the Netherlands I spent more time on the Tube than in the air.


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