Word of the Day: Struisvogelpolitiek

I am an illustrator of children’s books, and I enjoy other artists work. My partner got me an excellent little book called “Lost in Translation” by Ella Frances Sanders with illustrations of words from other languages that have no English counterpart. I was flipping through it again recently, and I came across a few that I think bear some reflection.

The words we know shape our thoughts; they help frame the way we think about the world around us. By expanding our vocabularies, we expand our abilities to think. This is why in authoritarianism, we see a push toward a limitation of speech, and a movement towards a poverty of words. A poverty of words creates a poverty of thought. It limits us in the ways we are able to think of the world around, and disables our critical thought process. George Orwell did a great job of presenting this idea in 1984, with his “Newspeak”.

So, let’s increase our vocabulary, and learn and talk about some new words:

Struisvogelpolitiek-(noun)

This is a Dutch word that literally means “Strange Bird Politics” or, “Ostrich Politics”, as the ostrich is the strange bird in question. This is in reference to the common myth that ostriches bury their heads in the sand when scared. This word is used to describe people who prefer to pretend as if nothing is wrong when bad things in life are happening, usually in regard to political matters, hoping that things will be ok. The, “Just-Don’t-Think-About-It” approach, if you will.

This approach, almost always ends in calamity, if not for the person exercising it, than for those around them. This is usually the approach that signals a position of social privilege. The person, or group is in a place where events are looking grim, but are not yet directly affecting them, so they have the luxury of choosing whether or not to act, or to just not think about it and see what happens. However, if a situation is looking grim, that probably means there are others who will be impacted, who may not be in a position to choose inaction.

Struisvogelpolitiek would describe the tone of the author of the poem “First they came for the Socialists…” by Martin Niemoller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Let us not be that. Let us not hide our heads in the sand, or more accurately bury our faces in our phones, in videos of cute puppies on skateboards and not look up. It is ok to need a moment to breath, to collect oneself, but to try to disconnect entirely from society for months, to shame other people who continue to stay active and connected, to be anchors to those who try to make a differences, is being complicit in the demise of the rest of us.

Do not collaborate with our oppressors because you don’t want to see what is actively happening around you, or you’re waiting for some deus ex machina to save us all so you don’t have to pull your head out of the dark. No gods created this mess, only people. The only ones who can save us are ourselves.

Now is the time when we need to be mindful of what goes on around us, for the sake of eachother and ourselves. It would be wonderful if this was all some bad dream. But it isn’t. This is real life now. We can’t fail eachother now.

No struisvogelpolitiek.

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