The story of the departure ceremony (11): ‘Balance’.


On the first Saturday of every month, a little after sunrise, one of our departure ceremonies is held: the pilgrim lauds. This month we read from our pilgrim book of hours Seasons of Life a text by Job Cohen, vformer mayor of Amsterdam and former leader of the Dutch Labour Party. Known for his commitment to diversity and seeking consensus rather than polarization.

Reader is pilgrim Jeroen van Zuijlen, who is also a writer for our website. On behalf of our editors, he visits special locations along the route of the Walk of Wisdom. Places where people have felt at home, feel at home, and want to talk about it to their heart’s content.

My parents were special people. They were both in hiding during the war, both lost many family members. But they were able to deal with it admirably after the war, so I definitely had a happy childhood. I realize more and more that this is an invaluable gift: it gives you a solid foundation and self-confidence in life – which others, without such a happy childhood, sometimes have to miss…

My parents come from the liberal democratic tradition, which found an inn in the Labour Party just after the war. I grew up in that tradition. As far as I’m concerned, it really took shape in the troubled sixties, where the statement ‘the real sharing of knowledge, power and income’ has become an important source of inspiration for me.

Of course, not everyone can acquire the same amount of these three, but striving for a fair distribution of earthly sources of livelihood has always been important to me. And for those who don’t know much about the concept of solidarity , they can also go a long way down this road if they replace it with the concept of well-understood self-interest : I think that life is so much more pleasant if there are no unreasonable differences in these areas. Worldwide, we are not doing so badly in this respect – which is one of the reasons why the Netherlands is such a pleasant country to live in.

There is another adage to which I attach great importance, and that is the Latin ‘audi et alteram partem’, which I got to know during my law studies. It is an instruction for judges and means: listen to the other party before you make a decision. It will happen to everyone that you listen to an argument and think: yes!, that’s how it is. To think, when you listen to the other party: yes… There’s something to that too. And so you often end up somewhere in the middle.

When I ask myself what these two adages have to do with each other, I come up with the concept of balance. And that’s just the way it is. If I am anything, then I am a libra. And that’s right. Because I was born in the second half of October…

Job Cohen

Image: Christophorus, drawing by Peter de Haan. A miniature from Seasons of Life .
Note: Christopher is the patron saint of travelers and pilgrims.