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The Dutch Reach: Positioning Yourself to Avoid Creating Harm

Author: Anne Martin < BACK The Dutch Reach: Positioning Yourself to Avoid Creating Harm

Have you ever heard of the Dutch Reach? If you haven’t, not to worry. I don’t think the Dutch have either. The term was coined by a retired American doctor Michael Charney. While the Dutch probably don’t recognize the term, they do the reach. All the time. They call it “opening the car door.”

Bicycles are ubiquitous in the Netherlands. Cyclists crowd the country’s streets. While for decades the Netherlands has made room for cyclists, Dutch drivers still have to be wary of bashing their door against a rider coming up beside their parked car. “Dooring,” as we call it here, can happen.

Dooring is a problem wherever cars and bicycles share the same road. In Toronto, dooring is an offence punishable by a $365 fine, as well as three demerit points. What’s to be done? Banish cyclists? Build bike lanes that provide ample dooring-free space? There is a remarkably simple way to help avoid this potentially harmful cyclist meets door moment.

This brings us to the Dutch Reach. Dutch drivers open the door with their right hand rather than their left – or you can think of it that Dutch drivers open the car door with the “far” hand rather than the “near” hand. This somewhat awkward habit of door-opening trumps a more natural way to do things.

If you give the Dutch Reach a try, you will quickly see the point. As you reach over and open the door with your right hand, you are forced to look behind you providing you with the opportunity to see if a bicycle or a motorbike or perhaps a runaway elephant is coming up beside you.

It’s brilliant. Cyclists and drivers alike will see the beauty of The Reach. No one wants to inadvertently send someone flying or to be doored. A simple shift in behaviour, a learned new practice can save against unnecessary harm and potentially may save against some infrastructure costs.

We can think of the Dutch Reach as a metaphor of the need to make intentional room for others, to pay attention to the possible negative impact we can have on others, the damage we can potentially cause and the ability to find simple, doable ways to reduce negative impacts.

Let’s think about some ways we can make room for others. Not just physical room, which is of course important, but also emotional and psychological room.

What can you do to minimize the possibility of impacting someone else negatively? To avoid emotionally dooring someone?

Here are a few suggestions that come to mind:

  1. Make room for details and a story you may not know exists. Don’t make assumptions. Slow down. Be prepared to turn in a different direction and shift your perspective even if at first that is awkward and uncomfortable.
  2. Make room for people to stay open and talk. Ask questions that can help you and others to look around and see the bigger picture. Try asking, “What happened?” Avoid asking “Why?”
  3. Make room for doing things differently. Learn new skills. Learn to listen. Listen to learn.
  4. Make room for good connections. We share the road of life with many people. What do you expect from each other? How can you support each other to meet expectations?
  5. Make room for joy. Smile. Open up your heart and laugh. This is particularly meaningful when you have completed the Dutch Reach, seen an oncoming cyclist and let them pass before opening your door.


Anne Martin is the Director of Restorative Practices with Shalem Mental Health Network

Key Word Tags: Healthy Relationships, Community, Restorative Practice

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  1. Michael said...

    Lovely essay, insightful use of the DR as metaphor for interpersonal sensitivity and consideration. Taken it to a higher, warmer level!

  2. Elske said...

    excellent read and something to practice daily!