I, as do all my Learning Consortium colleagues, seek to help people connect with each other through genuine conversation: speaking fearlessly, and listening attentively and with respect. I recently had an experience that showed once more that this is so very necessary and eminently possible, even when the individuals involved come from all strata of society, or business.
Queen Beatrix of The Netherlands joined a dialogue group in a village in the southern part of The Netherlands. She had heard, from the Queen’s representative in the province of Brabant, about the stimulating discussions which had been conducted there around the tensions created locally by the massive livestock farms and sheds.
There we sat rather stiffly with the Queen at our table, and with the Queen’s representative and with her lady-in-waiting and her chamberlain. The ice was broken swiftly, however. When I said that it was out custom to open discussions by reading a poem she spontaneously asked whose poem it was.
The members of the group (citizens, farmers and local community officials) had prepared themselves well with a number of questions which I had sent to them, but I offered the Queen the opportunity to ask her questions and express her wishes concerning the discussion first. She had many questions! And they were good questions, because she had studied the reports of previous discussions well. A spontaneous discussion followed. I did not have to do more than ensure that each of the different groups of stakeholders could speak freely. Nobody attacked anyone else. Everyone spoke in a civilised manner, with a pronounced local accent. The Queen exhibited a strong personal involvement with the lives of the citizens in this agricultural community.
Protocol dictated that the Queen would indicate when the discussion had to be ended. But after 45 minutes, 15 minutes later than planned, I had to signal that we really had to close things down.
We all saw her again later during a reception in the town hall. Once again, she took the opportunity to engage the group in discussion. It was heart-warming to see how the ten stood, shoulder to shoulder, in a circle around the Queen and continued their exchange of views in a very open manner.