Double standards

Like many people, I find the fact that so many children have died from gun violence in America a frightening testament to the double standards we keep hearing about from America. The only problem is that it’s not just America, is it? Granted, gun violence is a particularly American problem, but double standards are everywhere. I have yet to find anyone, myself included, who is not prone to double standards. Our problem starts to get very serious when we try to deny the fact and even justify our decisions with a moral argument.

On Twitter, I saw someone holding up a poster that said, “Let’s think about the sacrifice our children are making to ensure we can own guns.” That’s sarcastic and I’m sure it was meant to be, but isn’t that a mentality that seems to emanate from the American media? I can’t watch any more American crime stories because they are so repetitive, but also because they exemplify idiotic deception and callous disregard for the loss of human life. Just count the number of dead bodies that pile up in average crime stories, not to mention “action” movies where so many bullets are fired that it’s a miracle anyone is still alive at the end of the movie.

I remember not too long ago, people were protesting that old western movies were still being shown. There were several reasons for this; one was the portrayal of Native Americans; another was the theme of white supremacy and the underrepresentation of the contribution of the black population to the rise of America. In comparison, the number of Asians or Semitic people regularly killed in action films is far higher, but this does not elicit protest. These films normalize the use of weapons, some even glorify it. Hardly a wonder then, that particularly in America, people flock to guns shows.

In other countries, people had to give up their guns because a police force was set up that had the sole right to bear arms. This had an immediate effect, and the number of homicides dropped drastically. To this day, the countries that have implemented this policy have far fewer deaths by firearms compared to America, where the right to bear arms is enforced almost religiously and the gun industry financially support politicians at will to keep the situation from changing. The curious aspect of this is the fact that evangelical Christians belong to the groups of people who are almost 100% in favour of the right to carry firearms.

The problem with just looking at it and getting upset about it is that we ourselves have a double standard that probably doesn’t have the kind of impact that firearms have on society but undermines the free society that we all cherish. In the name of freedom, we allow things that hurt people; in the name of inclusivity, we ignore the dangers that exclusivity sometimes protects us from; in the name of free speech, lies, slander, deception, and fraud are allowed in through the back door. This undermines the trust we need to maintain a society in which freedom is guaranteed.

There is, for example, the protection of minorities, which is undoubtedly important. However, when those minorities include the few people who harm others, and their protection actually puts them in places where they can do harm, there is always a victim. An example is a prison service that now has to accept that a male prisoner who “identifies” as a woman (whatever that means), despite having no discernible differences from a man, can be moved to a women’s prison. Women do get raped and/or pregnant in prison because of this, but that is somehow considered collateral damage. Some say that they are “just criminals,” whether male or female, which is a callous assertion that just illustrates the insensitivity of the situation.

Since the proliferation of social media, which allows anonymity, we have become even more of a verbally abusive society. Anyone can have an “opinion” that is limited only by laws that prohibit incitement to violence. Certain words or phrases are banned on platforms, but a quick look at Twitter or Facebook shows how people get around that. I am myself sometimes appalled by the behaviour of public figures and could easily lapse into the use of profanities, but I try to limit the use of such expressions, whether on social media or in conversation, although I am not free of it. Some people just take advantage of the opportunities they are given and attack anyone they can find. The problem is not just the bullying and mental health issues some people suffer because of it, but the fact that it has become normal. We’ve become so used to the fact that populist politicians can claim anything these days, and claim things that are clearly untrue, and we accept it as “banter.” People who have a real problem are told to “man up” and “move on.” It is ignored until someone actually dies, and then everyone is surprised.

Social media has also become the platform for radicalising young people, and so we come around to the issues I spoke about at the beginning of this piece. It doesn’t matter what the group is, whether it is political or religious, whether in the name of activism or protest, whatever the cause, people have become radicalised on social media. It doesn’t have to be a mass murder in a school, or a beating up on the street, it could be ‘cancel culture,’ whereby people are denounced to their employers, or their publishers, for saying something that isn’t regarded as politically correct. This has a taste of a time when people were denounced for being “agitators”, just because they were Jews, or in the communist regimes for being counterrevolutionaries, because someone wanted their jobs. Really, anyone who has a problem with someone else can make their lives uncomfortable by denouncing them as an undesirable for some reason. Too many people have already become victims of this behaviour – especially amongst academics.

This has something of mob behaviour, when employers, publishers or even friends and acquaintances withdraw from someone because they are accused of something that is not even criminal in itself, but because it is deemed unacceptable. People have been hanged by mobs because no one had the courage to stand up to it, for fear of joining the victims hanging from the tree. Is this the way we are going, back to times we thought were behind us? Is this the society for which people in Ukraine are fighting and dying? Is this the society that can make the moral claim against other countries?

The trouble with nursing

I have been in contact with several people in nursing in Germany, who seem disappointed and hurt and wondering why they should continue to use their life energy for others. I understand their disappointment because I have been through the same thing, even in management, and I could do little to change the situation. It is indeed the case that nursing in Germany, in which reliability and compassion are important qualities, has been made into a profession like any other, and in the process the authorities overlook (or ignore) the complexity of the task as well as the strain on the body and mind. This is especially the case when it comes to caring for people with degenerative diseases. These seems to be a problem internationally.

Many young people enter this profession and find that the little bit of extra money they earn as a Licensed Practical Nurse over the auxiliary nurse is not motivation enough to take on the stress of the task. In my experience, the demands of the profession are assessed academically, even though the vast majority of professionals are not academics. The problem is not keeping sick people satiated and clean, that is basically the easiest thing to do, but the problem is caring for them appropriately. By appropriate care I mean holistic nursing, taking into account all their needs – which is a very difficult task. It’s not just manual work, or writing extensive care-planning, it’s also relationship work, and for that you need time and tact.

From my experience, if you want to fulfil this task, you have to accept that you cannot provide optimal care in the full sense of the word, because the conditions are not optimal. So, an optimum is not a benchmark, but a goal to strive for. In order to achieve this goal to some extent, it is necessary to have coherent teamwork and a division of tasks that respects the special role of the registered colleagues. Auxiliary nurses must take their cues from the licensed nurses and work towards their declared goals, and these should in turn value that work, without which they achieve their aims.

In Germany, there are many people in nursing who are burned out, and this isn’t just because of the pandemic, which only served to deepen the divide between goals and resources. Often it is not only the tiring work, but the fact that they are under multiple pressures (children, elderly parents, and sometime a reliant husband) that make their lives difficult. I have known many female employees who have (or had) so much to carry in their lives that they no longer had energy for the job. When you carry a life situation like that long enough, you dull down and distribute what energy you have left to tasks.

In Germany, temp work has become widespread, and many licensed nurses have realised that they can have the full pay through temp work, without the full responsibility of resident nurses. Then it’s clear where people are going if they don’t value continuity and a permanent contract. That is demotivating for the professionals in the facilities, and in the end, it can happen that you can only get professionals from temporary employment agencies. This can quickly develop to a facility having to close because it no longer meets the requirements of the authorities.

In a way, you can look at it like this: Basically, no matter what team sport you play or what tasks a team has to accomplish, you need a reasonable game plan that everyone has to stick to. This includes being clear as a team about what the overall task is, what the difficulties are, and how to avoid conceding goals. Of course, it’s also about scoring “scorer points,” but you have to be clear in the workspace what those are. In soccer, it’s easy to define: Putting the ball in the opponent’s goal as often as possible, but the strikers need to keep an eye on the whole game and provide support when needed so that the whole team produces a satisfactory work performance.

With any defined role or task, a team is only as successful as the team effort makes it. It does no good to devise great tactics if no one sticks to them. It’s also no use scoring goals but conceding more of them. If we concede goals, we have to do more unnecessary work. Every member of the team must be clear about their role and do it well, but also follow the “play” and iron out problems with the rest of the team. In our age of individualism, we tend more and more to put our own performance above the performance of the team, but as a team you win and as a team you lose.

In geriatric care in Germany, the residents and family members, as well as the reviewing authorities, are the spectators and referees, and as we know, there are whistles and boos and point deductions when we consistently perform poorly. As in sports, we also get attacked by a sensationalist press when we perform very poorly. We have to perform every day, which makes geriatric care look worse than sports teams that only have to play once or twice a week. Our playing time is also longer than 90 minutes, which means we have to think very carefully about how we perform as a team and look for improvement every day.

Leaders also need to keep a good connection with their teams and not put themselves above the team, but the team also needs to respect the work of the leadership and honour agreements. The moment the process doesn’t work, it’s often the leadership that gets the criticism. This makes it all the more important to clarify what position one takes on the process, what expectations one is overwhelmed with, but also how the team’s expectations can be met. The discussion should be open, but once an agreement has been reached, it must be honoured. It’s better to argue up front than when doing the work.

I believe if you don’t have that attitude towards the task, the job can’t get done, and we all have to work to stay fit for the game. Unfortunately, if you’re not willing to do that, you’re not fit for the task. As in sports, it may be the body that is not up to the task, possibly due to a strong performance in the past. It is noticeable that in nursing there are always typical sports injuries that increase with age.

So, the question is, are you ready to approach the job that way? I wish there were times when these demands weren’t made, but I also know of times when I’ve walked down the ward with my team after work is done and had “We are the champions” on my lips.

The War on The West

Douglas Murray’s book and the interview he did with Jordan Peterson made me think a lot. Every word of his statement in the interview was true. I could tell that he had done very good research for his material, and it was well presented. We live in a time when unreason prevails, not least in the violence of Putin’s war on Ukraine, but also in the conflicts within society where accusations of inherent racism are made, even among people known to have been active in overcoming racism – and have been white. We live in a time when facts matter less than feelings, when mob rule has become respectable and doublespeak normal.

Murray sees a war against the West from within the West. He calls this a capitulation in the fight for freedom of speech, democracy, and a liberal society that can only lead to a worse future for young people. I agree with him. The current atmosphere among young academics is worrisome, and although we baby boomers have been bad enough, the future responsible generation is approaching chaos and anarchy. If there is no group of people in the younger generation willing to implement with their hands what the brains have come up with, everything will dissolve into nothingness, and a vacuum will be created. What will then be sucked into this vacuum will determine the future.

But there is also another side. There are the problems in our Western society that are named by the activists, even if they are perhaps overemphasized. Racism is a problem that will not go away until white people overcome their prejudices. Violence against women, gay people and trans people will not go away until men curb their aggression. There are numerous problems highlighted by activists, and they are the reason for the younger generations’ self-criticism of the West. It is the moral arrogance of the West and its criticism of others that makes it vulnerable to criticism itself. One cannot claim the moral high ground and call for trust if one cannot prove oneself trustworthy. This seems to be the real crisis facing the West.

The problem Murray rightly points out is that self-abuse is not the way to solve the problem. If we tear our society apart, we will have nothing to fight the problems anywhere, and we would prove unreliable to those currently fighting a despotic enemy who wants to destroy any chance of an open, liberal society. It is true that if the West wants to lead people to a better future, it must embody that ideal itself. But the way to get there must be a joint effort by all political parties in a democratic discussion based on truth and evidence for the arguments put forward. Mistakes have always been made and will always be made. The context of actions taken throughout history must be considered, and we must be aware that also our well-meant decisions are likely to be criticized in the future.

As I have said in the past, the importance of credible politics, including the will to defend our society against those who see our way of life as a challenge and are willing to undermine it and even take up arms, as we have seen, cannot be underestimated. The peace marches in Germany on Mayday showed that they lack realism when it comes to cynical people like Putin. They like to imagine that he was “only provoked,” but those who are ready to destroy a country and wipe out a nation do not need to be provoked. His disregard for life, including the lives of his own soldiers, betrays his obsessive character. He hates the West, manipulates the West, undermines the West wherever he can. Every visitor from European countries was cynically put to the test by Putin, trying to cause as much discomfort as possible without it being obvious to the press.

We must focus on the real problems in the world and overcome the loss of trust in our societies. If the people in power are incompetent, they must be voted out. If they manipulate the truth themselves and find illegal ways to keep themselves in power, we must find ways to take power away from them. But trustworthiness must be restored if we are to defend our society against those authoritarian forces in the world who argue that democracy corrodes our values, leads to chaos, and that autocratic rule is better. Otherwise, we just fuel their argument.

A different scenery …

In the days leading up to this week we have been inundated with bad news, and I, for one, was in need of a different outlook, even if the bad news won’t go away, just because we are looking in a different direction. All the same, the drive across the border and through the Netherlands was fortunately uneventful, and we arrived without delay in Bergan aan Zee in bright sunshine. Despite the temperature around 14°C and a cool wind, we had a pleasant walk through the small village and a stretch of the beach, where treading in dry sand was a bit of a struggle. Stopping off in a busy beach restaurant for a Hamburger and Coke, it occurred to me that, whereas in other countries, people have expressed concerns about loss of cultural heritage due to immigration, in the Netherlands, people were talking in various languages, and the waitress reacted with a familiar multilinguistic ability. It wasn’t just the tourists, like us, but those speaking Dutch were visibly from diverse cultural heritages.

This reminded me of an encounter many years ago when I visited the Netherlands and ordered a drink in German. I was immediately reprimanded sternly, though not in an unfriendly way, and told that the waiter knew I was not German, so why was I speaking German in the Netherlands. I corrected myself and said in English that I unfortunately did not speak his language, and was politely served by the waiter, who told me that it did not matter, few visitors did. In his words resonated a certain pride that his language is rarely mastered by foreigners and that he was able to serve the guests in their language. I think that this is an example of a justifiable pride, perhaps it has a certain national aspect, but I experienced a similar encounter in Belgium, where I also found the people there just as multilingual. Obviously, this example has limits, and neither the Dutch, nor the Belgians are so multilingual and culturally multi-facetted that they can compensate for everybody, but they don’t need to. It is already impressive.

Our evening walk was eventful, and we found many attractions, especially for children, hidden in the green area behind the house where we were staying. The houses here are interesting, with unusual shapes that made it clear that we were in a different country. Between the normal houses you see everywhere in the Netherlands, there are many round roofs and buildings that vaguely look like ships on end. Some things also remind me of the coast in southern England, like Devon, where I grew up – especially the dunes and the long sandy beaches.

The whole village is very relaxed and if the temperature had not dropped, we could have sat outside for a while. When you listen to the melody of people talking, you also notice the difference from people speaking in German, and it is more like English. I often listened more to that melody than to the words people spoke when I walked in foreign countries, the hum of the crowds, but also breathing in the smell of the land, which is different even in various parts of a country. The night was pleasant, and we have often slept in worse beds. After watching a few episodes of the Amazon series “Starling” and listening to some sounds around us in the house, we finally slept soundly.

Unfortunately, the temperature drop will remain until we leave, which is something we have experienced on other holidays and led to us leaving earlier. We’ll wait and see how this develops. There are plenty of things to see, and we have sunshine at home, so we’re not looking for a tan.