10 september 2006


An experience I had last week keeps popping up in my mind, so apparently there is a need to do something with it which means to write about it.

Last Monday my beautiful Leiden University (to which I certainly harbour a strong ‘patriotic’ sentiment) held a ceremony to open the new academic year. Officially there was no need for me to be there as I am no longer a member of the Faculty of Arts Council or the University Council. But as there would be a prominent guest speaker, Mr. Alexander Rinnooy Kan, I decided to go anyway. The whole thing was sort of disappointing; except for the physics demonstration at the end the ceremony was filled with the ‘Choosing Talent’, ‘Going for excellence’ rhetoric I have been hearing for years now. While I was discussing the need for action instead of words with some friends, the following happened.

I saw a first year male student stealing a teaspoon.

No, it wasn’t a cup, it wasn’t a coffee pot, it weren’t even many teaspoons. It was just one teaspoon. And I was shocked. And at the same time I was shocked that I was shocked. Still I felt an immense need to go and tell this guy that he was violating the property of my beautiful university and that this wasn’t the way he, as a student of this university, could behave. And as somehow I often need to listen to my feelings, I decided to walk up this boy and tell him what I thought. “Come on, it’s just a teaspoon.” he said. “Yes, it’s a teaspoon and it isn’t yours so put it back.” I replied. And he did.

The funny thing was that even though my friends told me that I did the right thing and that more people should avoid others acting like this, I felt ashamed about sticking to my principles. In a city in which it is not more than normal that students steal traffic signs, student association beer glasses and the like, I of all people had to go and tell a boy off about stealing a teaspoon.

The following days I thought about the teaspoon a lot. I realised it wasn’t about the size of the object, but about the fact that I do not think people should steal, small or big. Even if nobody sees it and there is no chance of being caught, I think stealing is wrong. But why make such a fuss about just a teaspoon? Well just because. Maybe it’s one of the things from my protestant upbringing that stuck. The eighth commandment doesn’t say “thou shalt not steal” for nothing.

Thinking about Christian morality made me think of Prime Minister Balkenende’s initiative to try to let the Dutch discuss “Values and Norms” a while ago. Because of reasons I don’t know he didn’t really pursue this. Probably because it was done away with as “a Harry Potter look-a-like’s attempt to teach the people how to act” by the media. This is a pity, as I kind of like the old saying that one should not act in a way that one does not want to be treated by others. Why? Because I think this is the only way we can live together in harmoniously. Moraalridder? Mierenneuker? (morality knight?! / quibbler).. Sure. But still, is there really another way in which we can live together in a peaceful way on this small piece of land if we don’t abide by this principle? I don’t think so.

4 opmerkingen:

ruud zei

hulde!! Je hebt volledig correct gehandeld en wijs gesproken.

soof zei

chelle!I totally agree, I would have done the same!

Marloes zei

I already told you I agree with your moraalridderness. But what about the link between the (mondial) university's rhetoric about being selective and what this sjaars did? When I popped into my faculty last week (to get a cheap sandwhich, who said that I'm god's gift to university?) I was amazed by the behaviour of the new students around me. First of all they ofcourse didn't leave me any cheap sandwhich to get my hands and teeth on, but moreover they looked enormously bored and mostly occupied by their looks and the next party to go to. This instead of the vibe of excitement of young people being in a new high learning environment I used to pick up in previous years. They weren't at all aiming at becoming an example to the stealing part of society. But more important: are these the students who should fit in the 'Choosing for talent' programme? Are these students going for excellence? Maybe there is a need for action indeed, but I wonder whether it shouldn't start with the students themselves (yes, there is some tegeltjesmoral left in all of us).

wtr zei

Hmmm, this is a tricky one, I would have been more interested in the motivation of the student than in really asking him to put back the spoon. Why does one steal a teaspoon? And is there a way to justifie it? Maybe his mother collects rare spoons? Maybe he had to do it for his studentenvereniging? Or maybe he was just bored?

Anyway it is nice to know that there are some righteous people still around, allthough I myself know that I am not. By which I mean I would not want to judge people for their actions even if they seem wrong to me (The really horrorsome cases aside) because I am not convinced that it would help to change the world. I rather convince the student that it would be better to put back the spoon than tell him to do it without morally causing any effect in his behavior. Peolpe should choose for themselves, and all we moraalridders can do is try and steer them a litlle.