I currently still live in the Netherlands, the country I was born and raised in. The Netherlands is a country that is very, very flat. Not only geographically speaking, but also in the metaphorical sense. That is to say: Dutch people are not very fond of any form of hierarchy, to say the least.

You see it everywhere, both in social and in professional settings. People are very direct to each other, no matter who you are. Don't expect a subservient attitude from anybody, not even your waitress.  Employees have no problem rebuking their bosses. Kids address their parents by their first name.

In fact, thinking that you're more or better than someone else is probably the single biggest sin you can commit as a Dutch person.

Even the prime minister goes to work by bike, because anything else would give the impression that he thought he was more than the next guy; and that would definitely harm his popularity. (I guess by now you can imagine how unpopular the current American president is, here).

Prime minister Mark Rutte goes to work on his bike

Thinking too far outside the box is not encouraged, especially not if you openly dream about changing the world. After all, who are you to think you could change the world? You better not think you're something special.

One of the most popular sayings here is:

"Doe maar normaal, dan doe je al gek genoeg!"

This loosely translates to: 'just act normal, that's plenty crazy already'.

If you do 'happen to' become rich and successful, the best thing you can do is to remain as normal as possible. You may be forgiven for buying a bigger house and a nicer car, as long as you still do your own grocery shopping and send your kids to public school with the other kids.

Oh yeah, and don't complain when the government comes and takes up to 75% of your income and assets in taxes. It's only fair, after all.


Of course, there are some good things to say about a lack of hierarchy. In a business setting, for example, every idea should be judged on its merits, no matter if the idea is the CEO's or the janitor's. And not pointing it out if your boss is making a mistake won't help the company or anybody else in the long run.

Still, doing away with hierarchy altogether is such a waste. Because hierarchy is beautiful.

A sense of hierarchy, the idea that some people are better and some are worse than you at certain things, gives you so much.

It gives you someone to look up to, and someone to be an example for. Someone to learn from, and someone to teach. Someone to follow and someone to lead.

Durante la regata de Las Tres Millas, celebrada en la Playa de La Milagrosa - El Palo, (Málaga).

The opposite of hierarchy, this societal flatness that I've been referring to, is usually referred to as egalitarianism.

The word egalitarianism comes from the French word égal, which means equal; at the same level. And most of us intuitively like that word: equality. Maybe because it reminds us of a fundamental human right: equality before the law.

But there is also a shadow side to this égal. A great illustration of that can be found in the German expression:"es ist mir egal".

This literally means "it is the same to me". It is the German equivalent of "I don't care". And this is exactly what I'm trying to get at here:

Where there is no hierarchy, people don't care.

Where there is no hierarchy, there is no better or worse. There is nobody to look up to and nobody to lead. Nothing to strive for and nothing to avoid. We're all nicely equal and that's that.

All the incentives to be great in any respect are removed, entirely.

After all, if everyone is equal in every possible way, any inequality of outcome must logically be due to luck. This does not only prevent you from feeling like you're worse than a successful person, but it also conveniently absolves you of any responsibility if you fail.

Hierarchy brings personal responsibility, the opportunity for progress, striving for something better.

Egalitarianism is cowardice. It's trying to run away from the realization that you're not all that great. Instead you pretend that everyone's equally sucky and there is no need for you to change anything. It ultimately leads nowhere.

I challenge you to let go of the idea that you're equal to everyone else.

It requires courage to humble yourself this way. But only after you do this can you have somebody to look up to; and ultimately become somebody that others look up to for guidance and leadership.

It's not easy, but it will ultimately be the most fulfilling.