Try Again


The Dutch have become notorious for their immigration and integration practices. The open and tolerant culture, which the Netherlands have been known for for decades is now a description of the past. Recently we found out that the price of a short-term entry visa, was doubled on short notice. It is a blatant policy change, which raises little objection in the Netherlands these days. Speaking the Dutch language before you enter the country is another requirement, which is rigorously tested before one can mingle with the other 0.3% of our world population, who speak our language.

Joseph has increased his Dutch language capability big time, as if he anticipates the next policy change (for 2 year old adoption kids to do the language test). He will clearly ask to: “do socks!”, “make a picture”, “have a look!” and asks for your “help!” or leave him alone: “do it myself”. The strategies he uses are fascinatingly simple: he listens, observes, repeats what others –read his big brother- say, fails, tries again, tries again and again until others understand what he says and help him fine tune the pronunciation. His vocabulary changes every day. He now understands virtually everything we say. He has even started saying: “naar Nederland”, although we are quite sure he has not been there before.

How have we -adults- lost much of these powerful learning skills to listen, observe, copy from others and to ultimately internalize the learning through endless practicing? I remember not even using half the opportunity to learn Spanish in Ecuador in 1995, simply because I could not handle my inability to express myself freely. I switched back to English all the time. I think this hesitation to ‘try and try again’ extends beyond a language skill to many new things we need to learn, especially the more intangible skills such as influencing and leadership skills. Many sincere and specific development objectives die before they have been ‘tried’. Generally we know pretty well what needs to be done, we just don’t do it. Argyris & Pfeffer wrote beautiful articles about the ‘knowing-doing gap’.

Would the ‘knowing doing gap’ be related to anxiety and courage? Joseph does not know the consequences of not knowing or failing yet. He has no fear of trying and failing. As adults we have all had our experiences of trying and not succeeding. As much as we might want to, there is no way we can turn back to the early years of no anxiety. Can we overcome this anxiety by tapping into our courage? What would that look like? Joseph’s speed of learning is a magnificent inspiration.