Influencer Glenn Helberg
Interview February 2020
Picture: Eveline Renaud
I am the youngest of a family of 3 brothers. I also have two sons, one of 33 years old and one that is 29 years old. I am single at this moment. My parents both passed away and they were very supportive in whom I have become right now. My parents were born in Surinam, I was born in Curaçao and I now live in Holland. My mother told me everything I needed to know about my family before she passed away when I was 13 years old. She would tell me all the “ins” and “outs” about my family back then in the post-colonial and post-slavery era, there were a lot of things happening with a lot of imbalances, and they way my mother used to tell me these stories, was very nonjudgmental, these are the facts. She told these stories in the sense of “this is life” and “things can happen” so you shouldn’t be surprised if things just happened to you, you would still have to deal and manage them. When she talked about the greater family it was totally nonjudgmental, with compassion and that life is love. I believe that these teachings helped me in the way I started to look at other human beings. When my mother died, she was 51 years old, I could afterwards still feel her presence and support until the year before my father passed away. It might have been to give some space to my father, whom would also make his transition to the other side. Who knows, but it felt like that anyway.
My father has always been a great support for me during my whole life, that meant everything for me, as he also taught me to be nonjudgmental. He was also a funny guy, although he could also get mad at me on the little things, like as I was getting driving lessons from him, he would always reprimand me in a very direct way to turn on the lights in the evening when I was driving. In a certain way he also played a very crucial role in whom I have become. Even after their respective deaths, both my parents, especially the part of being nonjudgmental, was a quality that as a child I wasn’t aware of. I once asked my father why don’t you say “no” just for once…and then he answered there is no reason to say “no” because you are keeping your promises that you made with me…so I am very fortunate and I am very appreciative for the parents that I have had. It appears like, when I came on this earth, I wasn’t a totally blanc sheet, as I came with some past wisdom in this life when I was born and the dance that we made with each other, I could follow it without much effort. Maybe being the youngest child out of a family with three sons, made my father a more experienced and knowledgeable father, as the way he raised me, was different from the education that he had gone through, when he grew up and what he had given my elder brothers. My grandfather was a half Chinese and he had outlived two wives and he was very present in raising my father, from my mother’s side on other hand, my grandmother was the dominant party.
Could you share with us some of your educational background and past professional?
I am still a physician but no longer a practicing psychiatrist. I just turned 65 years in January and each 5 years you have the obligation to re-register as a psychiatrist, showing to prove that you have kept up your knowledge and skills levels. I passed on this, this year. I am done complying with all the expectations of the insurance companies, especially western institutions and others expect from me as a psychiatrist. Now I am doing what I want to do, I am free to do now what I would like to do. A friend of my told me: “You can now use all your knowledge and wisdom, but leave it up to others to do the operational work”. It feels like I am a grandfather in psychiatry, you know just like having grand children, they can always approach you, but I am not responsible anymore.
What do you tell them exactly?
I share with others what motivates them to live their life’s. As a psychiatrist, I never limited myself to the western model of psychiatry only. Although thinking from this model has taught me so much, it wasn’t complete. I considered it too limiting, downplaying whom we really are as human beings. I was raised by my parents to look at the connectiveness between human beings and also to look at their environments and I wasn’t raised to look only at the individual, only at “me”. Our genetic make up, knowledge and wisdom from different cultures, all I would include in my therapies. If patients told me, that they would hear voices in their heads, I wouldn’t dismiss this and I would take them serious.
Feeling the presence of your mother all over these years, is that an example of how broad-minded you are?
Yes, that is one example. For my clients, if they would tell me about the voices they are hearing in their heads, I would ask them to tell me about this. What is it exactly that these voices are telling them? For them, this is a reality. If a client was born with an extra spiritual layer, like children for example, who were extra sensitive and were seeing things, I would facilitate and would be guiding their parents while these symptoms occurred by telling the entities to leave this child alone after understanding the whole context of the meaning of the entities in this family. And after doing this later on, I got a confirmation that this intervention had really been helpful. As I firmly believe that our environment doesn’t solely exist out of what the average person can experience through its senses. In fact by adding to my western psychiatrist education, also the wisdom and knowledge from other cultures and Buddhism like on death and dying, plus knowing how to deal with this, this has enriched my own personal knowledge and wisdom, but also it has increased my overall ability to help my clients.
Now that you have stopped as a psychiatrist, what are you going to do now?
First of all, I am feeling free, free to do what I want to do. I am now in Italy at lake Lago Maggiore in Italy in a beautiful meditation and health center that for centuries was known for its healing energy. This location was chosen by Tibetan Lama Gangchen Rinpoche especially for this reason. Every time I come here, I experience healing. Btw I was invited by the leader of this center Lama Gangchen Rinpoche to have lunch and I feel very honored and privilege to have been invited.
Secondly, I am working on a book I am writing on the importance of emotions. I am no longer a practicing psychiatrist, but after all these years it has formed whom I am right now. So if I would make music, I would use my knowledge and wisdom to enable people to live their lives as harmonious as possible.
Thirdly I am now working as a Life Coach. If people would approach me as a client, I would invite them to start a conversation, to enable them, so that they can live in harmony with everybody and everything surrounding them.
You have always been very active being a chairman of OCAN for years and also e renowned and publicly known person in Holland, always asked for opinions on minority issues. Why have you done this in the past and are still active? Why is the driving force to do this?
Well, that is a difficult question to answer. So I will pick a moment to start with. There was a moment in time when I said to myself, “enough is enough”. I live in Holland and in this society, the western dominated thinking that was leading the big national discussions on minorities, made me sick in my stomach.
In my psychiatrist practice, on an individual level, I was meeting patients from all walks of life and from Antillean descent. After Shell left Curaçao and Lago left Aruba by the mid-eighties, lots of Antilleans and people from Aruba migrated and came to Holland. The policymakers then thought that “this too shall pass” and that Antilleans would assimilate in the society, it was called “watering down” of Antilleans. But of course this didn’t happen, as we as human beings want to feel safe and you don’t want to lose this feeling of safety, so Antilleans moved to places where they would meet other Antilleans. So I was observing the unfounded discussions on minorities and decided to mingle in the ongoing discussions and by doing that, I was approached to become the chairperson of OCAN and also participated in the “Landelijk Overleg voor Minderheden”.I knew what had happened in the USA and I knew that forced migration leads to the Afro-Americans landing in the lowest strata of the social ladder and I didn’t want that to happen. I wanted to actively work to prevent this from happening, as policymakers were hugely underestimating this the system of exclusion that was already in place. I started to be asked to give an opinion on different issues and there are people that liked what I have to say, so one day “Zomergasten” a popular program on national Dutch TV where they interview the only guest for 3 hours, was at my door and dedicated a whole episode interviewing me as they wanted to know my story and I agreed to do it.
Did Holland change over the past years since the mid-eighties?
Well, in the post-colonial system there is a build in reflex I have noticed over the years concerning non-white people. I have seen it with Antillean and also with people from Surinam. People from these backgrounds should stay where they are in the social ladder. The system doesn’t want to see colored people and they especially don’t want to see highly opinionated minorities express themselves and move upwards. This reflex is becoming stronger in politics and I am seeing a growing nationalism, all of it is a reflex on this upward development of minorities on the social ladder. The younger generations, descendants from the minorities that migrated, were born here and grew up in Holland, grew up as equals with their white peers, but as the society has a reflex, this is cause for lots of frictions as these younger generations don’t accept being pushed aside. My generation protested politely, we are even a little bit apologetic and we didn’t want to trigger angry reactions in the society.
The younger generations from minority parents, question this reflex and they asked themselves “Where does this come from? What do you mean?. We grew up together and we were friends and you now want to boss me around?” They are much more conscious and un-apologetic. I have come to the conclusion that system changes takes a lot of time.
Another example illustrating this is the discussion on “Zwarte Piet” and “the White Sinterklaas”, although you might say that there are some slight changes that have taken place in acceptance, that it is a racist tradition, this has created so much angry emotions and agressions that it illustrated to me, that the society didn’t prove to be rational after all, as the society pride themselves to pretend to be rational. This is typical a reaction of people when they feel threatened.
We have come to understand that emotions play an important role in how people interact with one another, you have shared with us that you are planning to attend the next “Emotion Revolution” Conference in Bergen Norway in 2021. Why are emotions so important according to you?
Words are the source of our emotions and past experiences. Emotions are the source of our actions. The formal “code” of how we should behave as human beings in society in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights mentions that: “we should always use our intellect, consciousness and brotherhood”, they don’t mention emotions. As the thinking was that we are rational beings, forgetting that emotions can make us fire up like flames or not. We as human beings need to learn and understand that we didn’t evolve out of our ratio and intellect alone. Our emotional brain has so many emotions and we tend to be over depended on our ratio and intellect and underestimate that emotions are the driving force behind our thinking, actions and words. When it becomes too overwhelming, we should know and become aware of this. That is why certain emotions, can be so overwhelming. The emotional brain is so important because it communicates to us when there is a danger, but on the other hand it can overreact of how big the threat really is, because of past experiences. So you need to rationalize the severity of the threat, you need to manage your emotions. Like another extreme can be, that some people say “I am emotional, that is how I am, and I can’t do anything about this”, using that as an excuse to overreact and not overthink and temper their emotional reactions when they are triggered. We need the rational parts of our brain also to balance this.
What is your BIG WHY or driving motivation to be whom you are right now?
My purpose in life and being born on this planet is: “to learn”. I want to continue to learn. When I was about 15 years old, I read a book from Herman Hesse called “Siddhartha”. As I understood the book, it was about the road you travel to wisdom and the goal was not to reach your destination, but the goal was the journey itself. Everything I do, I learn. This is also why I feel very comfortable with Buddhism. Siddhartha = Buddha. I came in this life to learn and not to be conditioned by how other people tell me how life should be like. I want to be connected with the deep feeling that my soul is being enriched through my growth during my journey in life. As I grow older, I grow spiritually and I can have more freedom. When I talk to clients that want to change their gender, for example, to become a man or a woman, this is obvious that this is the driving force. Their souls live in a body that makes their souls feel unhappy and unfree. Once they have grown through the process and changed their bodies, their souls become more whole, free and come to fruition. Learning gives me more wisdom regarding myself, others and my environment. Also in my African background there is this belief of the importance of the environment. I have plants at home of which one in particular I recently understood that the plant is called “Mama Aisa” (kroton) a plant with healing powers and it is important for me as, I believe it heals. It struck me, that when I felt bad health, this plant would resonate with me and didn’t do well also. When I felt better, it started to bloom again. And ancient wisdom from the native people from America tells us that trees and plants in the world are the most intelligent entities in the world. From my perspective I can understand that, because who is making our environment the place where we can breath, who is giving us the food, medication, the possibilities to heal? Aren’t it the plants and the trees. Also this village as I mentioned before where I am now, has a healing potential. I can feel myself healing when I stay here. This environment is totally contrary to political arenas that are very toxic environments, where people their aim is to break their opponents.
What are the challenges that you are dealing with? And how are you dealing with these different challenges you confront?
My body that I was born with. Every day I count my blessings. There are of course old clutters that I need to deconstruct yet, but I believe that everything I am experiencing now, also with my health is part of my personal journey.
I don’t believe that I will live long, but when I die, I want this to be a peaceful transition. For me it is important to answer positively on these questions: “How well did I live; How well did I love: How well did I learn to let go”.
Do you use your inner voice to evaluate when dilemma’s show up? How does that work for you?
For me it is a process, a rational process and intuitive process that I have to go through, think through and feel through and when I wake up in the morning I look at the outcome. I don’t like taking decisions under pressure. This can be frustrating for others at times. But I need to understand, why I feel anxious and fearful, I need to reflect on past experiences and evaluate coping strategies that I am applying and I need to ask for support of other people’s if necessary and ultimately take a decision and be responsible for the possible consequences of my decisions and tweak the outcomes as the consequences become clear.
Being afraid alone is not enough for me, not to take a decision. Like I was asked last year to accompany clients that were going to visit Ghana and at first everything in my body and everything else was like “don’t do it, because all my recent travels ended up in being admitted in the hospital”. After going to the process, I decided to do it anyway, as fear alone was not a good enough reason, not do it.
What are your strengths?
My intrapersonal intelligence, which is my self reflection abilities and interpersonal intelligence, the ability I have to interact with others. Having the ability to find the right words to explain to others what I want to communicate. My goal is to trigger their intrinsic motivation, inspire people creating something every time we interact with one another. I have learned that if you are touched, you learn better. Why is this important to me? Because when I teach, I want to touch people using everything I have experienced in the past that is useful to trigger their intrinsic motivation. Everything you do, has to be personal, this is what I have learned from the women liberation movement.
Do you have hobbies or interests that you are also passionate about?
I have been and I am a performing artist in singing, dancing and in my words. When I am on stage, I want to touch people so that when they go home they take it along with them, entertainment of a deeper level. As you can see, my goal is to touch people, also by being a performing artist.
If you as Glenn would meet a stranger in the bus (let say in Norway or the US) and they would ask you to introduce yourself what would you answer?
I would say that I was born and raised in Curaçao and my parents are from Surinam and that I now live in Holland.
How would you describe Glenn in one word or one sentence?
I am not a one dimensional person, as I relate to many dimensions. As I am getting older, dealing with my challenges, I am still in a learning mode with every step I take on a daily basis. So I don’t think that I can be described as a static person, as I am more of a dynamic being.
Whom are the persons that have inspired you the most in your career?
My parents, like my mother that brought me to school at a very early age (1,9 months) and I was in her classes, she was a teacher. And I was participating in everything the other children were involved in and it is there where I discovered my fondness for the performing arts.
My mother was an excellent teacher and later on I realized that she had laid some sound fundamentals in whom I have become later.
Also my father in particular he once told me, Glenn: “I admire you now that you have become a physician, because you still treat every person equally.” That was for me awesome, when he told me that.
But I also have learned the theoretical background of communication skills from Watzlawick;
from Jan Foudraine I learned to look at psychiatry from a third person perspective;
from Frantz Fanon, I have learned what “Black Consciousness” is all about;
from Inneke van Seumeren, a gynecologist who trained me, how to be a “whole” doctor, not limited exclusively like most doctors to be solely a physician in some kind of armor, but to also be still a human and a vibrant person;
from my cousin Reginald Kort whom was a physician himself and he triggered in me the desire to become a physician myself, as I was not planning to become one, when I saw all the books he had on his desk; and another cousin, in that time the only black professor at the University of Utrecht during those times, Albert Vrede (who he is married to my cousin), who taught me about the learning process of learning, that this takes time.
What is a trait that is still a work in progress?
This is a difficult one, I would say my propensity to postpone things. I would like to learn more the ability to come into a flow of things I have to do and now have the tendency to postpone.
What was a defining moment in your life?
I have had several defining moments, like the moment my mother passed away.
The other one is the acceptance of my father of my sexuality. I was planning to come and live in Curacao back and I send a message via my brother and told him: “..Pa I love men..”. I wanted to know what his thinking was on that. If he wouldn’t accept this, I would not come back home as I was living in the Netherlands during that time. I didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable especially in a society where “what they think of you” is important. My father took 5 days to go in a process, he later told me that he couldn’t sleep well those days, but after thinking it over he told my brother to let me know that I was welcome. The first moment we got a chance to talk to each other, he asked me to explain what I felt. I told him how does he feels when he looks at a woman. Then I asked him what do you feel, when you look at men. He said: “nothing”. I told him that is what it is like, when I look at men, I get the same type of feelings that he does, when he looks at women.
Where do you want to be 5 years from now with your career and personally?
I believe that in 5 year from now, I will not be here anymore. My mother was 51 years old when she died and my father was 91 years old when he passed away. I am 65 years old now. Given my physical condition now, I do have a hereditary condition my mother also had, I would be extremely grateful if I would reach the age of 70. So, if I would still be alive, I would hope that I have made good use of the time, that I would have grown and developed even further that which in me as potential and that I wouldn’t be afraid of the death. That I would be living every single day and knowing that it can be over in the blink of an eye. And that I would be actively doing things every single day.
What would you want your Loved Ones, family, friends and others to say about you let’s say 20 years from now?
“I did it my way” and that I had affected people with the things I have done. I am consistently finding my own way in the things I do and this has given me so much. That I have manage to come with my feelings very close to my inner, intrinsic self that it touches me and it gives me “my peace of mind”. And through what I have learned from Buddhism, I have come to learn that “it isn’t about me”.
That I have been able to contribute to a system that enables Africa and black people to live up to their potential, although I grew up in a system where blacks are considered to be less.
What makes you stay optimistic about the future of Curaçao?
To all the youth here in Holland that go back to their native islands, thus not just Curaçao, I tell them that if they distinguish themselves slightly and stay their course in their careers, they will be soon in leadership positions. That it is probable that politics will want to incorporate them in the system, but I advise them to organize themselves with other youth and stay authentic, as the elder generations of politicians might have their vested interests in a cluttered system. When I read news along those lines, that the youth organizes itself, this makes me optimistic.
Furthermore it is important to focus on the reform of the educational system on all the islands in which learning about ourselves and how to become ourselves, taking ownership in your life and learn how to create value out of what we have and how to contribute to the whole society, is very important.
Finally, I really hope that the African diaspora develops into an economic power looking for their own ways and thinking about their co-human beings and that they know how money works and that they can connect with Africa and live in mutual respect with one another and take care of one another. This makes me optimistic about the future of Curaçao.