Recently I was traveling back home by train. At the station in Breda a man started talking to me. He asked if he could travel with me as he had a ticket to travel for free together with someone who had a valid ticket. I said that I was fine with it. He was very polite, telling me that he didn’t want to disturb me in any way; I should choose where I wanted to sit and he didn’t want to disturb me by talking to me if I didn’t want to. However, I liked to have some company, and as we sat on the train we continued talking. He lives in Dordrecht, works as a haptonomist and was passionate about theatre and city trips. He told me about his daytrip through the Netherlands that day and how he met different people on different trains. We spoke about our work and I told him about my company and the idea of cultural exchange.
As he left the train in Dordrecht he thanked me for allowing him to travel with me. I thanked him in return for the nice conversation, but also for asking me for help.
The Netherlands is a very individualistic country, like most countries in the Western world. Sometimes it seems as if we have blinkers on. We learn to take care of ourselves and to be independent. We don’t need to ask for the way, we use our own map or phone instead. We don’t need to ask a question, we will search for it on the internet. We don’t need to ask someone to take a picture for us, we will use our “selfie-stick”. We don’t want to rely on others or be dependent on them. It seems as if we like to be in control and don’t like to make ourselves dependent. By doing that, we would make ourselves vulnerable in some way. Also, many people don’t want to be indebted to another person. As a reaction to this development a Dutch platform “Durf te vragen” (dare to ask) was developed. The platform encourages people to ask a question and to be able to help each other in that way. A good step, because offering help on the other side can be rewarding. It makes us feel good if we can offer help to someone. But for that, someone needs to ask first. So dare to ask!
When I was in Uganda last May it seemed to me as if people there feel more free to ask for help. I walked on the street with a friend, when someone came towards us, opened wide one of his eyes in front of us, and asked if there was something in it, because it hurt. I couldn’t imagine this to happen in the Netherlands. Then in a taxi-bus, the Ugandan public transportation: A woman wanted to step out with some goods and her baby, which can be very tricky in the crowded and small taxi busses. She handed her baby to the male conductor, got out first and received her baby from the conductor afterwards. Another example: It happens frequently that people selling on the streets or in shops have little change and cannot give change of a bigger banknote. In that case all the surrounded shops and people are asked to change the money. A last example was whereby my friend started talking to a stranger, because his fly was open. It’s another example of how normal it is to both ask for and to offer help.
In the beginning all the offering of help made me suspicious of their intentions. When I walked on the street and asked for directions, people would accompany me for a five to ten minute walk. However, all the people I have met did this out of friendliness, without wanting anything back!
I think it would be a good thing if we could ask for help of those surrounding us more. It brings us closer to each other. An example being the man at the train station in Breda, who asked me for help. It was a nice train ride, we are still in touch through e-mail and I hope he is reading my blog as well.