Polarisatie

Polarization

Around 2pm the shop closes for an hour. This habit developed during warm summers, when it is so hot that everyone prefers to seek shelter in shade at home. Although this is not the case in other seasons, once it had become ingrained, that rhythm had remained. For Edith, those hours are the pleasant moments when she likes to chat with others about what there is to do in the city. The late summer is very pleasant. Then she likes to enjoy some sweets on a bench in the square in front of the shop and watch the bustle of people who are all on their way somewhere, or coming back from there. Recognizing the repeating patterns, Edith ponders the rally and what others have said about it.

Many customers simply found the riots exciting. A change from the treadmill that the city is actually quite often. It is true that here it is more dynamic, that there is much more variety than in a village, but in the end, if you walk along for a while, it is all more of the same. Tensions are somewhat greater than in the village, and somehow the different interests also seem more conflicting. But when things get out of hand, then always the vigilante intervenes, and one of the magistrates mediates. It seems that you have to take a very extreme attitude in this city before you achieve anything at all. Shouting loudly, swearing and cursing, almost starving from poverty, getting into a fight, destroying things, being critically ill… all behaviors that she had seen here more times than she liked, and which were rare or never occurring in the village. And what was worse for Edith: people seemed to think that was normal, and were used to run their business that way. If you remained invisible below ground level, you were forgotten, and you were decided without mercy.

Edith had discussed this with Lucy before she returned home. To Lucy, this behavior was typical of a city. She had a clear opinion about it, but didn’t express it when Edith or John’s acquaintances were around, apprehensive about the aggressive confrontations that could ensue. Lucy believed it had to do with the great differences between rich and poor people, and the power differences that became so apparent because of it. If you have a lot of money, power and status apparently come naturally, and vice versa, influential and wealthy people also seemed to attract money again. Only through very hard work, being ruthless, a bit of luck and the right connections you could squeeze yourself into that world. Edith understood what Lucy meant, because for her and John that world was a long way off. The shoppers also treated Edith as a sidekick, part of the business, not as a person with feelings. Still, Edith was having a good time. In any case, the work was uncomplicated, and she had time to chat in between.

What was also more important in the city than in the village was politics. Of course, there were also discussions and opinions in the village council, and it was sometimes really an art to reach a good compromise, but in the end the common interest always prevailed. In politics, however, the hidden urban tension rather leads to polarization, widely separated points of view that made any form of rapprochement ideologically impossible. When people spoke about their opinion, they were really only talking about the ideology, the position of the party, and not about how they viewed something as human beings. Urban politics was a kind of theatre, in which the other was ridiculed as much as possible in extreme terms. Words that incited, evoked feelings of group solidarity, and eventually led to the kind of recent demonstrations. No one felt heard, but no one really listened to the other too.

Nobody feels heard
because nobody listens to the other.

What Edith had learned in the shop was the relationship between added value and yield. If you buy fabric, and make a beautiful dress out of it, you have added something of value to the fabric, which makes people want to pay more than for the fabric alone. Then you can earn something. The hours you put into it are usually not much appreciated, but your creativity is. Most is paid for the attention you give people, the feeling that they are personally helped, and that such a dress has been designed and prepared especially for that customer. For Edith, the best example of focused attention you can give to someone is the work a caregiver does, or someone who works with the elderly. Strangely enough, that is not appreciated at all in the city. It is seen as a difficult obligation, which the city cannot avoid, and for which people were therefore reluctant to make some money available. Only the rich can afford private help, which is well paid. But that is a privilege for the elite, while they hardly express gratitude because of the high compensation.

When Edith walks back after her break, she wonders if polarization also has added value, and if so: for whom? Does it help to simplify complex issues? Or is everything made just too simple and a caricature of reality? Can polarization ever lead to a compromise, a solution that both parties can agree with, or does the added value lie in the fact that everyone in turn is proved right and can polish their own ego? As a village woman, this mainly comes across to Edith as wasted energy and time that could be better spent on other things. To her shame, she had already noticed that this attitude was not appreciated at all. You were supposed to take sides, or mediate at best, but criticizing the ruffs’ behavior was not accepted. Certainly not when Edith once laughed and said they would always need each other, because otherwise they wouldn’t be able to argue so wonderfully. Opposites attract, was her conviction, and then you better make the best out of it!

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