Why Can’t We Be More Dutch?

Don’t email me angry emails barking that if I “like’em so much I ought to move there!”  I’m perfectly happy to be an American and to experience the best of American culture and everything it has to offer, both good and bad.  Thank you very much.  However there is one thing that I have always envied about the Dutch.  The Dutch live by a rule, as best a foreigner can understand it, which is something known as “Dutch Tolerance.”  Dutch tolerance is the idea that if someone is doing something and it doesn’t impact you or your life, you shouldn’t really get too worked up over it.  This is a difficult concept for many Americans to wrap their heads around.  To most, the idea of “community” is a group of people that share similar beliefs, attitudes, and lifestyles.  Herein lies the problem.  No two people are alike, and what works best for one person isn’t necessarily going to work well for another.

The Netherlands has a bit of a reputation.  Yes, prostitution is legal there.  Yes, there are sex shops in pretty much every community.  The biggest misconception though, concerns marijuana.  Americans love to tell the story that it’s legal there.  It isn’t.  The Dutch have applied the idea of “Dutch tolerance” to their communities.  They recognize that the worlds oldest profession is still around, and accordingly have licensed prostitutes, so that they may be regularly monitored for sexually transmitted diseases.  They know that people have sex, and therefore don’t come unglued with the idea of a store selling things that will help people have more fulfilling sex lives.  They also recognize that some people use drugs and have developed a two-tiered drug law system.  One level is for harder drugs and another for lesser ones, each with punishments accordingly- ranging from a fine to jail time with forced rehabilitation.

Most folks in America like to pretend none of this is actually happening.  When they can’t, they tend to become enraged.  For example, there is a sex shop in my neighborhood.  It’s a classy place with trashy lingerie – nothing particularly shocking.  However, when I bought my home a few years ago, I made the mistake of telling a conservative cousin of mine where I lived by using the store as a landmark.  Her response to me was a hissed, “Oh, that PLACE!”  In Alabama it’s actually illegal to sell sex toys, unless they are for medical purposes, but no one is seemingly willing to discuss what “medical purposes” means.  No one is willing to discuss going to such a business.  No one is willing to discuss the prostitutes that walk on the city streets downtown.  No one is willing to acknowledge that people use drugs or that young people and the poor in this country are developing pill additions at terrifying rates.  Last week I learned that a student from my school died of a heroin overdose.  He started using painkillers recreationally as a teen. In ten years, 12 students have overdosed.

No one talks about it.

We’ve come so far as a culture in the last 30 years.  The Oprah-fication of America has made it okay to talk about our secrets.  Secrets can imprison us and make us rot from the inside out.  It seems as though the Dutch figured this out a long time ago.

Time Magazine points out that “Teen birth rates are eight times higher in the U.S. than in Holland, and abortion rates are twice as high.  The American AIDS rate is three times higher….[and] marijuana usage is three time lower in the Netherlands than in America.” Think about that for a minute.

There are a few reasons for this as I see them.  First, Americans tend to focus on “childhood intelligence,” when rearing their babies.   They want them to be smart.  Parents can’t tell you exactly what that means, though.  Smart in what sense?  Book smart? Street smart? The Dutch tend to focus more on raising independent children, which in turn, produces more independently minded adults.  Second, education is key to Dutch experience.  They receive sexual education early (often starting in elementary school), whereas many Americans receive no formal sexual education at all.  The result of the Dutch methodology is to take the mystery out of sex, and lessen the desire to mistake it something that it’s not.  Third, Dutch parents and the culture tend to promote the idea of relationships that are loving and caring.  They have separated sex from marriage, but retained the cultural idea that sex is best when it is between two people in a loving relationship.  Americans tend to build up  sex to mythical proportions, setting the stage for sexual issues of every sort.  So, the Dutch tend to avoid social pressures and are educated about the realities of sex and drugs.  They tend to have fewer problems with each than Americans as a result.   Could we learn something?

I’m not coming at all of this from left field.  In fact the Dutch influence in America, at one time, was much stronger.  The Dutch started New York, and New York City was once known as New Amsterdam.  Long ago we moved away from Dutch tolerance, in favor of the Gladys Kravits approach to neighboring.  We peer out of our windows, hidden behind the drapes, spying on those around us, crying with moral outrage over what is witnessed, turning a blind eye to unfolding events in our own homes.



Categories: Europe, My View of Things, North America, Thoughts


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One Comment on “Why Can’t We Be More Dutch?”

  1. Sue
    April 17, 2013 at 2:13 pm #

    Bravo, Brad, we do need to develop greater tolerance in all things.

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