In times of great collective distress, and when solutions to reduce the spread of coronavirus are easier found through cooperation, it serves us well to remember what are the shared values that bind us.

In Dutch society, according to the Dutch government, four core values serve as a compass for life in the Netherlands: freedom, equality, solidarity and work. We can unpack these guiding principles in many ways, but the exercise today is to see them through the lenses the coronavirus has temporarily lent us.

Freedom

Usually, this value is about the freedom to have any (or no) faith, to speak your mind, to choose any lifestyle, to associate as you will, and the right to self-determination. Nowadays, this value seems to be much more about protecting everyone’s rights to continue enjoying these freedoms, with no coronavirus restraints, in the shortest amount of time possible.

We must remember the limitations to the exercise of our rights and apply them here too. In the same way that you wouldn’t hold nightly dance-offs at home while exercising your right of free association, you shouldn’t accept the risk to act as a coronavirus carrier when avoiding exponential infection is so important. Even if the measure is exceptional, the guiding principle remains the same. Everyone can enjoy their freedom as long as it doesn’t infringe on other’s people’s rights. Is there a more fundamental right than the one to a healthy life?

Equality

Equality is a straightforward value. Every member of society is equal, and discrimination in any form is banned. In times of normalcy, Dutch citizens seem to pride themselves on how well they do here. Why should exceptional times change anything? Do NOT take a page out of Trump’s twitter manual and call it anything else other than coronavirus or COVID-19. High-risk groups have the same right as low-risk groups to a disease-free, full life. In the same way that higher-income citizens pay higher taxes, higher-immunity citizens should contribute more for the care of the vulnerable lower-immunity folks.

Solidarity and work

For the Dutch government, these values come hand in hand. Dutch citizens are encouraged to consider one another, as well as to engage in voluntary work. There is a social security net to catch you if you fall, but they should work together with the support of your community.

Throughout the centuries, the Netherlands became a great country through the power of community. The Guardian published an article including a curious Dutch word: polderen or the poldermodel. It refers to the Dutch habit of working together to get parts of land back from the sea. The writer of the article explains: “since the Middle Ages, everyone on the same polder, regardless of religion, politics, class and local rivalries, has had to cooperate in maintaining the complex but vital system of windmills and dykes that kept their land dry.”

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No matter where we came from, we are all here now reaping the benefits of the work of these early swamp dwellers. These strange times the coronavirus has ushered in ask nothing more from us than their adverse conditions asked of them.

It is time to put all personal views and interests aside and contribute to the universal well-being of our community. Don’t hoard toilet paper and medical supplies, check in with your high-risk neighbour, they might need some groceries, take care of your mental health so you can care for loved ones. Let’s add some polderen to our social distancing!

How are you coping with the new measures of the coronavirus outbreak? Tell us your story in the comments below!

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