How holding hands can be a powerful symbol

How do you show that you care? In the Netherlands this week, men showed that they cared by holding hands, women showed it by sharing the pictures and encouraging this action. Children showed it by holding hands, all together.


Last week a gay couple on an evening stroll was brutally attacked by a bunch of teenagers.

Attacked because they were holding hands.

That’s all they did. Walking home from a nice evening in town, holding each other’s hands.

This didn’t sit well with many people. The Dutch, still overcoming both the shock that Geert Wilders* almost won the elections and the relief that Geert Wilders didn’t win the elections, are working hard to keep up the image that the Netherlands is a tolerant country. The first country to legalize same sex marriage in April 2001, now 16 years ago.

That tolerant image isn’t quite the same as it used to be, and just like many other countries, the Dutch are dealing with big things like globalization, the European Union crisis and immigration problems to name a few. Fear is the fuel for lack of tolerance and maybe it is therefore that a group of people quickly jumped into action with a simple gesture: holding hands.

The hashtag #allemannenhandinhand (all men holding hands) took off like wild fire and became quickly big on Social Media.

One of the first photos published, with Alexander Pechthold (The leader of liberal democratic party D66) and Wouter Koolmees (Lawmaker for the same party) were all over the news and even made it in many international news resources. The comments on these photos were very ranging from very negative like ‘cheap publicity’, ‘Disgusting’ to very positive like: ‘this shows bravery’, ‘a picture says a thousand words’ and everything in between.

Bottom line is, that a small gesture can become symbolic for what you, as a person or even as a nation stands for.

Holding hands might not change the world, but the symbol ‘I care’ (and in this case: I care about people and do not tolerant violence against gay people) might just do enough to feel compelled to also hold hands and post a picture. It can work as a starting point for further discussion and teach children about tolerance. (I loved seeing photos of entire school communities holding hands in one big circle, from the youngest child to the oldest teacher, boys, girls, teachers, administrators.)

Whether you do or do not want to hold hands or see people holding hands in public, to me this little gesture shows that in desperate times when you sometimes feel like it doesn’t matter what you do or say, it actually does matter. Can I hold your hand?












Edith Schriever

About Edith Schriever

I am a Maine-igrant from the Netherlands. While my scientist husband fell in love with the beautiful research institute here, I fell in love with Mount Desert Island. Mountains, ocean, wild life, peace and quiet! A culture change? Yes, a bit. Americans are not at all like the Jerry Springer audience I saw on TV when living in the Netherlands, well, at least not everyone. Portions are big and toilets small and low; I have learned to embrace the cultural differences.