I am a curious person. Always have been: as a child I could wonder who lived behind the wallpaper. Whole worlds arose in my head, made out of flat little creatures in houses with lots of ladders.
Later on I became able to express my curiosity in study and work. How do people work? And how does a society work? These kinds of questions, they still push me. As a sociologist working for the government, I have combined the quest for how people work, with attempts to achieve ‘public good’. Because together we make the world a better place.
In recent years my curiosity has increasingly been focused on the question of how people (including myself) actually change their minds. The debate on the street, in the newspapers, on TV and on the internet is polarizing noticeably. At the end of 2016 an absolute polemist was elected president in America. In Dutch politics the soundbite seems to become more important than the compromise. How did we get to live in a society where being right is more important than living together? How loud should we shout to each other before we realise that nobody ever listens when you shout? The bizarre ‘debate’ about ‘zwarte piet’ at the end of last year, and a wonderful article (sorry, in Dutch) by The Correspondent about an investigation held in the Second World War, finally gave me the push I needed: I have to satisfy my curiosity.
To do that is easier said than done. I am starting a long journey, without a clear route or a very clearly defined final destination. I want to understand how people shape and change their opinions. I want to understand why some people are so fanatical in favor or against abortion, or euthanasia. I want to understand what it takes to change your opinion about these kinds of topics. And above all (I remain a sociologist): I wonder how our environment intervenes in this. Why these big regional differences? What is the influence of your street, your school, your work, on how you think?
I will start finding answers to these questions. How? I don’t know exactly yet. I’m going to read first. And write blogs. And see what happens. It’s quite a journey that I’m going to undertake. Quite nice, and quite exciting. I guess I need extra eyes to make my good intention come true. Maybe you want to be these eyes? And ask me again in the coming months how far I’ve already got? How much time have I already spent on this project? What concrete results has it achieved?
Thanks in advance! I’m curious where the trip will take me…