Welcome at the blog of Dini Commandeur. I've written quite a lot of columns for various magazines. I also write short stories every now and then. These columns and stories are available for everybody at this blog. I'll release new columns and stories periodically.


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The line between good and evil

Column December 2006 Friday 15 December 2006 It is unbelievable how the years fly by. My mother always said: The older you get, the faster the time appears to pass. She was right. Sometimes it’s hard to keep up with life. So much happens. As always, this past year came with its ups and downs.

Something that happened rather often this year was my girlfriends’ experiencing problems at work. Recently, I asked one of them if there existed a working environment without problems. She didn’t think so. By the way, it appears that most of the problems are caused by managers. Good managers are indispensable but there are many that do not know how to handle their subordinates who, as a result, become overstressed and burnt out and end up on sick leave. In the October issue of Psychology Magazine there was an interesting article about leadership qualities of powerful, result-oriented leaders, who demanded top results from themselves and others. “Wolves in Grey Suits,” the article was called. The power of those managers (the alpha types) is frightening, according to the article. This type of leader can make or break people and the greater his power, the greater the chance he derails. Mister Alpha might have possibly been a great asset to the company if he had known how to handle people. Good managerial skills are an art that doesn’t fit the alpha types. In the article were tips on how the employee should deal with this type of leader and I strongly recommend you read it, because there are alpha types in every company and it’s good to know how to approach wolves in grey suits. Your own attitude is important and you shouldn’t feel victimized by the alpha man. Alpha types can go down through their own blunders but their ego often stays intact. My girlfriend has such a boss and she realized she could do two things; either finding another job (running the chance of hitting another alpha type manager) or accepting the situation and learn how to deal with it. In addition, she should try and follow the advice of the philosopher Cornelis Verhoeven. He had already said it midway the past century: “Do not become irritated, just amazed.”

But I did become irritated a few months ago when we were at the start of another trip to America and encountered a rather unfriendly security officer. If he had been a manager, he probably would have been the alpha type, but now he just had to ask travelers who had packed their suitcases. Such a job can be spiced up quite a bit with a strict look and the posing of irrelevant questions. He went very far with his interview. Here we had to do with a person who was out to impose and perhaps frighten us. Sure, it happened on the heels of the arrest of the terrorists in London and, indeed, one cannot be careful enough, but his questions and remarks were definitely not the same questions other travelers had been asked by “their” security officers and it was very clear that this was imposing, “big kahuna”-like behavior. “Do not become irritated, just amazed.” But I can assure you that we didn’t succeed in amazing and were extremely irritated instead. An unpleasant start to a trip that otherwise, fortunately, went very well.

Earlier this year I attended the open day at the courthouse. That was fascinating.  Especially the question and answer period with the judge and prosecutor was interesting. The judge told us about serious crimes and that sometimes the alleged perpetrator would sit before him completely beaten down and remorseful about the crime he had committed, often while he had been under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Remorse, remorse, remorse. Remorseful after the fact and all because of drugs or alcohol, the largest sources of evil. “You get to hear so much pain and sorrow, can you still sleep at night? Do you still believe in the goodness of people?” I asked the prosecutor and the judge. Both didn’t have any problems sleeping and both still believed that there was goodness in every human being. Every person has a good and a bad side, the judge said.

I had to think about that when I volunteered at one of our prisons and had a conversation with a few young convicts. No, they’re not there for nothing. “But even though we are in here, we’re still human beings,” said one of the guys. In his eyes there was sorrow. Again, he had just lost a friend to an overdose of drugs. In the past few years he had lost six friends to drugs. Most of the convicts are in jail because of a drug-related crime. But are they bad people? As the Russian dissident Alexandr Solzjenitsjyn wrote in his book The Gulag Archipelago: “ If only it was that easy! If only it were true that only bad people did bad things for then it would only be necessary to separate these people from the rest and destroy them. But the line that separates good and evil runs through the heart of every human being and who wants to destroy part of his own heart?” The line of separation between good and evil runs through the heart of every person. It runs through the heart of those young convicts and also through the heart of the alpha men, and of the security officer at Schiphol airport.

Although I no longer believe in resolutions and it will not always be easy, I will try to think about the line of separation between good and evil whenever I encounter annoying or aggressive people, because there is good in them, too. I will try and not become irritated anymore, but only amazed.

I wish you happy holidays and a prosperous and happy 2007.

 Text: Dini Commandeur,  Translation: Maria O’Neill


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