If I say The Netherlands or Holland what comes up in your mind?
Most probably tulips, windmills and cheese. Oh yeah, drugs and the red district!
Let me tell you that The Netherlands is much more than what meets the eye.
The Netherlands, water and, land reclamation are almost a synonym. Since early history the Dutch have fought and learned to live alongside with water, while expanding its territory, creating jobs, arable land and building an incredible anti-flood system while taking nature into consideration nature.
To keep The Netherlands safe, it requires a significant amount of planning, funds, coordination and acceptance of the inhabitants. If one of the main dykes broke, half of the country would submerge under water. This constant love-hate affair between man and nature has shaped the Dutch. It is in this project – the Afsluitdijk – where we can explore how the values of a country shape the culture, lifestyle and country landscape.
Today I was at the Afsluitdijk – a human-made- dam/canals/sluices system to keep the water out of arable land. The American Society of Civil Engineers declared these works, together with the Delta Works in the South-West of the Netherlands, as among the Seven Wonders of the Modern World.
Looking around this engineering marvel, I could not stop wondering what has made The Netherlands, look for the expansion towards the water, the constant fight with the elements and finding ways, at almost any cost, to gain land from the water?
The answer can be found in who the Dutch are. What defines them and what they consider essential: their country values.
Country values describe how people of a determined country relate with one another – government, education and relations – affecting political beliefs, social entities and economic development. In the case of The Netherlands, we are talking about values such as social democracy, free markets, believing in cooperation and partnerships, money minded and spatial equality among others.
Holland is a small country, with a vast production of high tech and long agricultural history. They need to manage land and water carefully, and this can only happen when systems collaborate with each other. Because values and norms work well, the economic and social environments are functioning most optimally.
I am highlightning some of the values that have shaped the Netherlands, consequently how they relate with each other and the world and how landscaping and economic gains go hand in hand:
Tolerant and consensus: The Dutch have a name to be accepting or nonchalant with others and situations and always try to find a middle way to problem-solving.
Cooperation (solidarity): As a small country, with resources that need to be well managed. The Dutch have become a master in cooperatives, partnerships (refer to Shell and Unilever as two influential consortia of the world) and also among the people who give the most money and time to charities and social causes
Co-habiting humans and nature: also known as spatial equality. The Dutch are very much aware of the need to create a system where man and Nature not only co-exist but cooperate, so they flourish.
Equality and Freedom: It is part of the constitution people are equal in the eyes of the law and freedom is anchored in the democratic system.
Tenacious: the constant fight with the elements has pushed the Dutch to become masters in water and resource management
Money minded: The Dutch would not be Dutch if they could not find a way of making money out of each situation
Looking at the Afsluitdijk, you can understand how these values, so intrinsically embedded in the Dutch society, translate into successful water reclamation, water management and economic growth (agriculture, fishing industry, tourism).
Values as a compass
Values are essential and lasting beliefs or ideals shared by the members of a group about what is good or bad, and desirable or undesirable. Values have a significant influence on a person’s behaviour and attitude and serve as broad guidelines in all situations.
Values are like a compass of how we want to live our lives, make decisions, attract people, be with ourselves and others. Values help us look at people and situations and take decisions – the good ones but also the bad ones.
Values not only shape and guide individuals, also organisations, groups and countries.
When we know our values and live by it, we can reach extraordinary things. What are your values? And are you living by them?
Curious to know more about the Core Values of the Dutch Society? More info
Here a short video on the Afsluitdijk
Images Flikr: Arcangel 12, Marcus van Leeuwen, Roger W, Joan Puigcerver