In the last few years nineteen prisons have closed down in the Netherlands. Empty cells have become such a problem that the Dutch are importing Norwegian criminals just to fill up the spaces. While the rest of Europe is struggling with overcrowding, the Dutch have a shortage of inmates. How has this happened? The Dutch way of thinking is an intricate, beautiful thing. When you deconstruct how they think, you see that people in Netherlands treasure the freedom of the mind.
It is difficult to explain how the Dutch think unless you have lived alongside them. When I was physically injured and hospitalised while living in Amsterdam, I cried to my landlord “Why did this happen to me”. “You mustn’t ask why. You are not a victim. Stand strong” she responded and I thought to myself “What a harsh approach, why isn’t she giving me sympathy?”. After a few years I realised that all the people around me, including my friends thought in pro-active, not reactive or illogical ways.
I am not saying that all Dutch people think the same way. But, the Dutch way of thinking demands logic and emotional outbursts are considered “niet normaal” or “not normal”. Solutions are favoured over sympathy. Instead of letting me wallow in grief, whenever I went to my Dutch friend about heartbreak and boy drama, she would not indulge my self-pity. It bothered me at first until I learnt that the Dutch abhor complainers. If I lost my phone or panicked about a University deadline, my moaning would be met with unimpressed facial expressions. It is almost “un-Dutch” to self-loathe. What makes the Dutch unorthodox is that they resent victimhood. A lot.
The reason why prisons are closing down in the Netherlands is because society views criminals as people. The police are not eager to arrest and punishment for minor crimes is a fine or community service, rarely ever jail time. The Dutch are big on mental power, they know that treating people like criminials will only make them re-offend because of the societal stigma. Get rid of the stigma and you have a justice system that does not create victims. Inmates are not treated like animals, they can pay to watch TV and they even have the keys to their own cells, knives are available to use in the kitchen even though they are chained to countertops.
Treat people as though they inferior and they will act inferior. The reason why cells are empty in the Netherlands is because the Dutch do not believe that terrorising someone’s mental health will heal them.
It is not a myth that the Dutch are direct. They like to think for themselves and they are not fans of self-loathing. Society is distinctly solution minded and that is why things run with efficiency. An autonomous individual gives birth to society and a society gives birth to autonomous individuals. This feedback loop is what makes Dutch culture so eccentric and for all intents and purposes, exemplary. We can learn a significant amount from the Dutch way of thinking, their cultural fabric rests on creating active ethical agents, not victims.