[Column] Polarisation

This is Monique van der Veen’s last column. Now that Dap Hartmann will return to Delta as a columnist next year, she feels that she has come full circle.

Monique van der Veen: “If you are concerned about polarisation at all, then assuming that ‘I am the problem’ is a very good option.” (Photo: Sam Rentmeester)

This is my last column as a columnist for Delta. Not that there are no subjects to write about anymore. Take the call from my fellow columnist Bob van Vliet to defossilise our education. It is hugely interesting to respond from the perspective of an educational programme like Chemical Engineering that is traditionally heavily fossilised and that is working hard on defossilising the curriculum (though it could be done more quickly). Yet, the understanding is that it is still important to teach certain types of ‘fossil’. Behind it lies the idea that that knowledge could lead to innovations in ‘defossilising’.

But I digress. I will thus stop writing columns. I am going to simplify my professional life. In my performance evaluation I was complimented for my ability to juggle so many different balls successfully. However, I think the time has come to do fewer things. I can then bring greater depth and focus to the projects I am involved in.

The reason to starting writing columns was the departure of columnist Dap Hartmann from Delta. It looked as though we could not have academic debates about ideas anymore without people like Dap being vilified (in Dutch). In other words, it was an ugly high point in polarisation. Things seem to have calmed down at TU Delft. Have we learned to deal with different opinions better? To invite each other for coffee if we are in complete disagreement with someone? To try to understand each other? To see the person behind the idea? Or are we just keeping quiet more often?

Have we learned to deal with different opinions better or are we keeping quiet more often?

I recently came across the Stephen Fry’s 7 Deadly Sins podcast. The introduction instantly appealed to me and was connected to the polarisation theme. The world is in a terrible state. And Fry says that he has found out whose fault it is. “The fault lies entirely with me. It is my fault. Entirely, my fault. I am the reason the world is going to hell.”

If you are concerned about polarisation at all, then assuming that ‘I am the problem’ is a very good option. As Fry says, “Everyone is keen on being right and exposing what is wrong with others, almost no one out there suggests there could be anything wrong with themselves.” This is a new wording of Matthew 7:4 in the Bible: Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the splinter from your eye,’ while, behold, a board is in your own eye?

So this is what I will do now. When something happens that makes me angry or feel rejected or indignant, I will assume that it is my fault. The good thing is that the solution is then entirely within my own sphere of influence. Another good thing is that I have already learned a great deal about myself. It is, however, not the most convenient position for a columnist to take. But that takes an end here. And now that Dap Hartmann will return to Delta as a columnist in the new year, I feel that I have come full circle.

Monique van der Veen is Associate Professor at the Faculty of Applied Sciences, department of Chemical Engineering. You can read about the work of her research team here and follow her on Twitter at @MAvanderVeen

Monique van der Veen / Columnist

Columnist Bob van Vliet

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