Influencer Brede Kristensen
Interview May 2022
Brede, could you share with us some information about your family life?
I was born (1946) in Den Helder in a small village, Huisduinen close to the rough North Sea. My father is of Norwegian descent and a biologist. My interest in biology and physics I inherited from him. My mother is of Jewish German descent. As a pianist, she daily played the piano for hours and hours. Especially Bach. I cannot think of life without Bach. My father’s sister, my aunt Gunhild, was perhaps my most important educator, up until she passed away. We could get along very very well. She rose me and my eldest sister by Norwegian Fairy tales. Every evening, she would tell us a story. This sparked my literary imagination as well as interest.
I am married to my second wife, the first one passed away, and with my first wife, I have three daughters, with whom I have always had and still have a very close relationship. I have a brother and a sister and I am close to all of them.
Could you share something about any other aspect of your educational background and your experiences?
I attended Peter Stuyvesant, as I lived in Curaçao during my adolescent years. Later on, I went to study Mathematics in Holland and after dismissing the future option to become a Math teacher for the rest of my life, I switched to studying sociology, political science, and philosophy. I was so curious to learn more about lots of subject matters, so I have written a lot on different subject matters. But as I became a University lecturer, I started developing a sociological theory based on patterns. On this ‘pattern sociology,’ I published several books. I am very interested to discover how patterns spring from ideas and how ideas impact our individual and collective actions and crystallize in institutions. After 20 years of lecturing, I switched careers.
How did you get involved in writing books on the Caribbean region?
Growing up in Curaçao during my adolescent years, I got to know Rene de Rooy very well. He was a Spanish and English. He opened my eyes to Caribbean literature. His son, Andre, became my best friend. One of the novels that impressed me most was Cola Debrot’s “Bewolkt bestaan”. For me an eye-opener. This fascinating novel that wasn’t easy to read and understand, catapult me into Caribbean Literature. Debrot has a certain worldview and life philosophy, that is magical, realistic, and existentialistic and I resonated with it. But I developed an interest in international literature.
By coincidence, I once met Ben Okri, a Nigerian author, in a bookshop in Amsterdam one day, where I was acquainted with the owner. Okri and myself got involved in a conversation. He told me to become a writer, one needs to be raised with Fairy Tales as this triggers the child’s spirit and literary imagination to view the world from different perspectives. I understood what he meant, for I was so familiar with Norwegian fairy tales.
After that encounter, I started writing more on patterns of the literary imagination. I read much, so I can value fiction in books. It inspires you to think. I believe we have two kinds of books, one is mere entertainment and the other one is challenging the reader to become a co-author of the book. To read well you need to develop literary imagination.
I know you as someone involved in Integrity and Governance issues. Where did this interest come from?
At a young age, I attended a Student Conference in neutral Austria in 1968. In those days, students shared rooms, so I was sharing a room with three students from Prague (Czechoslovakia). As we were at this Youth Conference the Russian government intervened and put a stop to the “Prague Spring”.
During these 6 weeks, I got much involved with these students. Naturally, they were very emotional about the events happening in Prague and this got me interested in Human Rights in Eastern Europe. After that summer as a volunteer I traveled back and forth for years and I still have close contacts in different Eastern European countries as the reality of Eastern Europe remained important to me even nowadays.
After you stopped teaching, what was your next career step?
After 20 years of being a lecturer, I decided to quit. In 1994 KPN approached me to see if I would be interested to train 20 former Ukrainian generals from the Sovjet army that were now employed in a company called UTEL (Ukraine Telecom Company). This training aimed to transform their military mindset into a mindset adapted to the needs of a telecom company. Well, this training turned out to be the most interesting training. By the way, many Ukrainian people see themselves as descendants of the Kozacs, meaning free people that fled from Poland and Lithuania to live in Ukraine, comparable with the Maroons in Surinam.
How did the participants grade this training?
I think it was a success. Mind you I was young, early 40-ties, and all were older or at least the same age as myself. So at first, I had to win their trust, through a translator. We kept in touch over the years. This translator now stays in my Amsterdam apartment, as she had to flee Ukraine due to the war. I believe in synchronicities, meaning coincidences. I have a lot of contacts, even close friends, still in Eastern Europe. I never give up friendships, not even now in Ukraine and several other Eastern European countries. Maintaining these friendships is my biggest challenge right now.
It is a great gift Brede to be able to do this?
Perhaps. It is an important part of my life and it fills me with lots of gratitude. My Norwegian aunt was such a great listener and I could get along with her extremely well, so I feel called to give back to others likewise.
We know that you are also active as a trend watcher on geopolitical and international developments. Can you expand a little on how this all started, you also had an opinion column in Amigoe?
This is a very difficult question to answer. I am unsure how I got involved in this. Maybe it was innate in me. Like some of my Norwegian relatives who started newspapers. I can see how one of my granddaughters, that is 8 years old and live in Germany, is already interested in watching political programs. When asked what she wants to be later on, she answered: “I want to do something as Angela Merkel did” or one of my grandsons who is 15 years old, wants to become a politician. I am very interested in political leadership and the consequences of that are natural. I like to observe and analyze, but I am not a politician at all!
“The Russian invasion of Ukraine is very puzzling to me. I didn’t expect it”….
The Russian invasion of Ukraine is very puzzling to me. I didn’t expect it. I recall an interview with President Macron from France and he said that he was shocked by the Putin he met, it was a different person.
Now I am worried as Putin doesn’t want to lose, on what Putin might do and that is making use of one of the strong points of the Russian army and that is their nuclear weapons. I believe in negotiations and maybe John Kerry from the US should talk with Sergei Lavrov, these two know each other quite well, to explore some openings to reach an agreement? Starting negotiations is essential. And regarding my columns, Karen Wooning of the Amigoe convinced me to write a weekly column.
What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be who you are right now and do what you are doing now?
I am a very curious person and I believe in “responsibility”. It is a moral duty to be hopeful. To spark a feeling of responsibility. This is deeply anchored in me. I am neither an optimist nor a pessimist, but I do believe in the power of hope. We need to trigger hope in others.
What are your plans for the coming years and when do you consider that you have been successful in your personal and business/professional life, let us say 5 years from now?
This is one of the existential mysteries of life that we do not know who we are nor what we mean to others.
But I can share with you that I am now working on a small personal project where I write short articles in Napa on philosophers, every week. Starting with ancient Chinese philosophers. I am trying to describe how our thinking as human beings has evolved over the years. Ideas of human beings influence our society and I believe we should study that, and this fascinates me. I consider this an existential problem that I value. I love doing this and anticipate that this project will be done and over within 2 or 3 years.
Do you intend to bundle it after you are done with your streak of articles?
What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
I have a vast amount of friends all over the world, but the challenge now is how do we maintain these friendships. Yes, I App them and mail them and with some even daily. Recently I visited Holland for a short while and I visited some friends that I wanted to stay close with.
Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemmas show up? How does that work for you?
In the past, I would not know, but over the years that has changed. It is a little bit uncomfortable to talk about it, some people think it is something odd. But yes, I do listen to my inner voice and intuition. And I use time as my ‘alliance’ to process matters and information, especially during the night. As I allow it to happen, I sometimes get my answers that I should do this or that…a brain is a mysterious organ. Very active as we sleep.
How are you trying also to keep up with your knowledge and skills levels?
I read a lot. In the past, I would attend conferences and read magazines. In my profession, I decided to follow my academic path. And only a few of my colleagues also have followed me on this path.
I developed my brand of sociological theory, and this means investing time in it. A more holistic approach to reality and the use of other, related disciplines, is often disqualified by mainstream sociology. I don’t agree with this. An example: “quantum mechanics and music can cross-pollinate sociology”. I see that everything is related. Sociology cannot do without quantum mechanics. Also, I experience lots of moments of synchronicity and meet different interesting people or someone tells me something and this triggers a eureka moment in me that is very relevant to my work. It is like fuel to creativity.
What are your strengths?
This you should ask others, not me.
Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
Friendship and plants I am passionate about both. I have a preference for certain music, classical music. My musical taste is extremely selective. I am fascinated by Medieval Thomas Tallis. Mostly choir music. Listening to this music I find it impossible not to believe in God. It sounds “Divine”. Like the music of Bach. My mother was very fond of Bach. When I was 14 years old, I met in Curaçao a French-Chinese pianist-composer Noël Lee living in the USA, who influenced me deeply. He was also a composer and via him, I discovered Béla Bartók who became one of my passions. Meeting Lee and his style of playing the piano, was a phenomenal experience for me, a 14 years old, as I am also an amateur pianist. I also love Galina Ustvolskaya from Russia as a composer and Augustin Barrios from Paraguay. My favorite instruments are the piano, violin, and guitar as I play and listen to all these musical genres and I need it to them my balance.
If you as Brede would meet a stranger on the bus (let’s say in Budapest or Bogota Columbia) and they would ask you to introduce yourself, what would you answer?
I would have a conversation but wouldn’t introduce myself at first. I would ask questions and then it depends on what happens. But it has happened to me before that by doing just this, you are in a better position to make new friends.
How would you describe Brede in one word or one sentence?
I just don’t know. Everybody sees different things in different people. I used to know you, Ivan when you were at Finance at the Island territory of Curaçao and now I meet you in a different role, and I meet a different Ivan. So I don’t know. Do you think we can get to know ourselves and others? As life is unfolding we unfold as persons, slowly, partially. Most of me and you remain folded up.
Who are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career?
Education-wise my “arts” teacher Wim Dieleman at the Peter Stuyvesant College and Rene de Rooy helped me to get through high school. They were immensely important to me as a person. Next, I would like to mention Professor Van Peursen, who used to teach philosophy in Amsterdam. I followed his lectures and participated in his workshops. Otherwise, there were not many who helped me in my career, except a colleague who taught psychology. At a later stage in life, she was a very reassuring and stimulating person to be academically.
What is a trait that is still a work in progress?
I need to better handle my time. This is still a challenge, I love reading books, writing, and listening to music, which keeps me in tune with the universe. I always struggle to find time to write and maintain friendships.
What was a defining moment in your life?
When I was 8 years old I got fascinated by knight stories, you know King Arthur and his macho glorifications. My mother wouldn’t have anything of that, so on my 10th anniversary she give me a book, a youth edition of ‘Don Quichote”. I remember me reading this book during Christmas vacation. My world collapsed completely after reading the book, as in hindsight I now consider this period one of the most traumatic experiences in my life. This changed the way I perceived the world completely. Up until today, questions regarding the meaning of this book are still on my mind. It made me think differently about issues regarding myself, “life” itself, good and bad, and interpretations of the meaning of the ‘windmills’ are still on my mind looking for answers. For me, Quichote is one of the most fascinating figures in literature
The next impactful book I got as a present on my 16th anniversary: Dosotjevsky’s ‘Brothers Karamazov’, all representing different archetypes like Ivan, Dimitri, Alyosha, and Smerdjakov, all representing a vision of how they see life and from different perspectives. This book clarified a lot of things in my life after years of confusion since reading Don Quichote. However, I am still trying to understand how society and how the human mind should work. That is why my last book is called “Enigma”, viewing man and existence in a Caribbean context.
Let me add three other things. First the painter Piet Mondriaan. I believe he is one of the greatest and most profound painters ever. He helps, us to become aware of ‘order’ and ‘ meaning’ in the chaotic universe. Like Bach. Second is the symbiotic view of life as described by biologist Lynn Margulis. Life is cooperation. Whereas competition ultimately leads to parasitism and death. On a personal level, I want to mention my wife, with whom I discuss everything. Without her, I would perish.
Where do you want to be 10 years from now with your career?
If I am still alive by then, ha, ha… although my mother, she became a very elderly person that in her seventies and eighties still playing piano and listening to music the whole day. I guess that I will be doing much of the same as what I am doing at this moment, but with more depth, let this be my answer to your question. More depth. A bit more wisdom, I hope.
What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends, and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now?
Hopefully, they will have learned something from me as a father, grandfather, or friend, and that who I am and what I have meant for them has not been without any significance.
What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao as we are in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, recession, and in the middle of growing environmental challenges because of the global warming consequences?
There are lots of people that are competent on the island that have integrity and high moral standards…..but……deep sigh…..there are also crooks on both ends of the spectrum from the very stupid ones to very learned and sophisticated ones. You know we are a very rich island in terms of human capacity, one may never know which becomes the dominant one.
I sincerely hope that what you and Miguel Goede are trying, which is a very lofty effort, can trigger a discussion and that our island opens up for what is “best practice from elsewhere in the world”, as we have played a very important role in the past, but we have to step out of our comfort zone to be able to regain regional position. I hope to be able to contribute a bit to this.
One of the 250 Influencers of Curaçao
Brede Kristensen is a scientist, author, column writer, and advocate of integrity, participative democracy, and good governance. As a curious and erudite family-loving man, he loves playing and listening to music. As a knowledgeable sociologist, he developed his brand of sociology that is not the mainstream, as he is an advocate of the wholeness of the interpretation of reality from different perspectives. He has published a lot on “how patterns spring from ideas and how ideas impact our individual and collective actions and crystallize in institutions”. Brede worked in lots of East-European and Caribbean countries, which makes him unique in his field. As he grew up listening to Norwegian fairy tales his beloved aunt would tell him, it triggered him to become an author as it ignited his child’s spirit and literary imagination to view the world from different perspectives As a firm believer in the “power of hope”, for himself and his intention to trigger “hope” in others, he continues to impact many people. Brede as a people person has a vast network of friends all over the world, which is a blessing of sorts, which he is very grateful to have, but also a challenge as it requires time to maintain these contacts. For all these reasons, we deeply love and respect Brede, as he uniquely has and still is contributing positively to our society. We consider him one of the 250 influencers of the island representing the “Science and Educational sector” Look at the list of the Influencers we have interviewed or reported on, up to now.