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
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
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.