Crisis after crisis, how do we best deal with it? ‘We must dare to think generations ahead’

While the climate crisis is playing in the background, the corona crisis is turning into the war in Ukraine. Humans can handle many adversities, but how many? Experts advise to look further ahead. Politics in particular plays a major role in this.

Research among members of the Opinion Panel showed that the Dutch are concerned about the situation in Eastern Europe, especially about the consequences for the Netherlands. Gijs Coppens, health care psychologist of the OpenUp platform, notices that the gloom from the corona crisis quickly returns to people.

Another crisis

Coppens says there is a need for ’emotionally mature leadership’. “It is an understandable, but also somewhat childish reflex from politics to find solutions, especially in the short term. You have to teach people to expect problems in the long term and to anticipate them.”

“It’s a kind of hopelessness that unfolds with these kinds of crises,” he explains. “Soon, of course, the snow-covered climate crisis will return, and who knows what after that. There is a lot going on at the same time and that causes powerlessness.”

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Long period of setbacks

Humans are super flexible, says Coppens. That is why we can easily handle a long period of setbacks. But then it is important to give people a long-term perspective.

“The government mainly thinks in short sprints, just like with the corona crisis. It is important that a long-term plan is communicated, because that provides peace of mind in the short term.”

Fantasy affected

So why do people and politicians start to think in the short term out of reflex? This is mainly due to fear, says crisis anthropologist Bart Klijnsma. “As humans, we believe that we are invulnerable. I believe that now I don’t get into an accident when I drive a car. That’s a fantasy we live in all the time.”

“Now that the war is approaching, that fantasy is being affected. And that creates fear. As a result, we will do things in the short term, such as taking in refugees. We also act like this at a political level.”

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Listening to the government

Klijnsma trains mayors in dealing with crises, and sees many comparisons in the way we deal with the corona crisis and the war in Ukraine.

“Clear phases arise,” he explains. “Now we are in a period like two years ago with corona. We listen to the government and do what we can do, such as applauding care or giving money to Giro555.”

Return of dichotomy

But what does that say about the next phase in this crisis? “People will get tired of it at some point,” Klijnsma continues. “The refugees will not be gone in a few weeks. There will be pressure on healthcare, housing and jobs. The dichotomy in society will grow again.”

“The government is preparing to a limited extent. When I discussed with a few mayors in March 2020 what could happen, everything came to pass: riots, violence behind the front door, dichotomy, mistrust in the government. But the Security Council mainly focused on thought of the short term: whether or not a mouth cap in the supermarket.”

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‘All sidetracked’

Thinking about long-term problems is therefore more often the case in politics. “For example, we haven’t done anything about the most common causes of pandemics. Climate, urbanization, intensive livestock farming: it’s all been sidetracked.”

“And you can now also see that with Ukraine. That country is the breadbasket of the Netherlands, but also of North Africa,” explains Klijnsma. “We will soon be getting our food from elsewhere, but not in North African countries. There will be more hunger there, which will increase the flow of refugees to the Netherlands.”

Intense images

“There is a difference with the corona crisis,” adds Coppens. “Everyone knows what war is and sees the intense images. Then people are also more willing to take action. With corona we did not see live images of the IC, which made the crisis less easy to imagine.”

Coppens notices that the fear in this crisis is also fueled by Putin’s unpredictability. “We always assumed he was a reasonable leader, but a reasonable person would not have made this invasion. And without reason, he becomes unpredictable.”

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Seven generations

According to Klijnsma, the best solution is to change the system. “Our systems are not designed for forward thinking. Everything and everyone looks ahead for a maximum of four years. But to prevent crisis after crisis, we must dare to look generations ahead.”

“Indigenous tribes always thought about what the consequences would be over seven generations. So a great-grandfather has to think about the consequences for his great-grandchildren,” he says. “But one generation would also help.”

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