For the year to come I would like to wish more mildness, and humanity, in all its forms and colors, in decisions made, in gestures and actions towards others, not only within the small circle of family and friends, but also beyond, in words anonymously on social media or directly towards each other, in emotions besides reason, and especially in everything we do, every day again.
When I came back to live in Belgium again already quite a few years ago – after having lived and worked abroad for more than seven years – I experienced a small culture shock in the beginning. Getting to my new job I took the train, at 6 am every morning. Once arrived in Brussels I rushed to the exit of the station, like so many others around me. Three things struck me: most people walked silent and alone, everyone was in a hurry, and there was little laughter or smiling in the early morning. Moreover, I also noticed that people to work often wear dark clothes. I was not getting happy about it. Working these first months I felt bad every morning. And I felt preoccupied at the thought alone of sitting in an office behind a computer for a whole day.
Gradually it got better. I changed to a job that suited me more, with more flexible hours, and less regularity and routine. That suited me better with who I was and how I wanted to work. But I will never forget how I felt that first period back in Belgium, on the train on my way to Brussels, in the station running between all other people early in the morning. Glad I had a job, but unhappy for the rest, a bit of a stranger in my own country.
I sometimes think back to that period, and although it cannot be compared with it at all, especially when it comes to the refugee crisis. I can’t feel how someone feels who has been forced to flee from his or her own country, leaving family and friends behind, but also the own culture and traditions. There is so much discussion about it. What I often miss in this story is mildness. No pity, but humanity. We ignore the fact that many of them had no choice but to leave everything behind. We think as if they wanted nothing more than to end up in a place that reminds them of nothing at home. We treat them as if they were asking to be a stranger in a foreign country. And we already condemn them in advance to great uncertainty about a safe future. We think so easily in the place of others, we judge so quickly about others.
Sometimes I occasionally go back to Brussels for my work. Today a lady spontaneously offered her help when she saw me struggling with my coffee cup, and when I bought a subway ticket that did not function for some obscure reason, four willing young guys who stood there joined their forces to open the electronic metro gate to me. Illegally, but it felt good that I was taken care of. By strangers, and without having to ask for it.
If I want something for the coming year, then it is more mildness, and humanity, in all its forms and colors, in decisions made, in gestures and actions towards others, not only within the small circle of family and friends, but also beyond, in words anonymously on social media or directly towards each other, in emotions besides reason, and especially in everything we do, every day again.
Catherine Ongenae wrote in an opinion piece in 2015 “I cannot make you feel what I feel. I cannot feel what you are feeling. I do not know what it is like to exist in a skin other than mine. We can tell each other something about this, but it does not in any way summarize who we are. People complain that society becomes harder and more heartless. But doesn’t mildness begin with ourselves? We all judge, we are all condemned. We disapprove, we are all rejected. We know what it means and how it feels. But do we also know how to stroke the frayed fur of that wild emotion, how to acknowledge pain, how toan bring an affected person back to the living in this way? As Holzer already lettered, and Otis Redding sang so beautifully: ‘Try a little tenderness’. We cannot do otherwise if we do not want to lose our humanity”.
With the very best wishes for 2019!