In one of the (too many) LinkedIn groups of which I am a member, there is a discussion taking place about whether or not there is such a thing as ‘international humour’. I have not followed it, but would hazard the guess that the general consensus would agree.. What we do share however, internationally, in humour, are the targets of our jokes. There is always a neighbouring country which we belittle, a profession we hold in contempt. That is international. In this regard, I think it is safe to say that the world over bureaucrats are the butt of many jokes : all they do is meet, talk and write memos; they possess a 9-5 mentality with no innovation or risk taking behaviour; they are bland, and boring . W hat is it exactly that they do? I admit, I too (even with direct family members in the profession, and having been an ‘international’ bureaucrat myself) laughed along and made my contributions to the stream of fun ….. In this blog I wish to stand corrected, and pay a tribute to at least one group of bureaucrats with whom I have had the pleasure of working with this past year.
For the past year, I worked at the (former) Ministry of Housing, Communities and Integration . I have witnessed and lived through the fall of a cabinet which has resulted in a significant change in course – the municipal elections which affected our own professional contacts at that level; the protracted negotiations for a new cabinet with all its uncertainties ; the definitive change of course with all the adjustments require d . Uncertain times indeed – especially for a policy support department whose core business was at stake throughout. Even during what turned out to be one of the longest lame duck periods in recent Dutch political history, these bureaucrats ensured that things moved forward, that partners were reassured and that all possible scenarios were anticipated. . Not an easy feat – anticipating what direction your policy will take while preparing for transition and at the same time providing continuity. Certainly, there are processes and procedures which boggle the mind, prevent flexibility and give fodder to the humour mill. Granted there will always be, as in every social organisation, those who are better at what they do than others. However taken as a whole these individuals have opened my eyes to the challenges of governing, implementing policy and delivering results in an increasingly complex society.
In an increasingly complex world in which we are simultaneously connected to millions, but distanced from our neighbours, it is the bureaucrat who has to deal with the result of our conflicts, the terrain of our impasse. We call to them for order, yet blame them for chaos . We rely on them for guidance, yet deny them a compass. Then, we have the gall to make fun of them as well . Perspective is what we need on the outside and what they provide from the inside.
That was the professional lesson learned . On a personal level, as an immigrant myself, I am grateful that during the rhetoric and polarisation that has been taking place in the media and with the politics on the issues of integration and citizenship , I was in an environment which tempered the extremes. My colleagues provided context and calm, assurance that in a democratic society we have mechanisms in place which do keep the individual in mind.
I thank them, and wish them all the best in the times ahead.