Michel Vandendriessche is General Director of the Pasar social and cultural non-profit organisation. Pasar has local branches throughout Flanders. Pasar organises a range of leisure activities, with a particular focus on walks, bike rides and camping. It also publishes a travel magazine containing ideas for trips in Belgium and abroad.
According to Michel Vandendriessche, director of Pasar, a person is unlikely to be living a dignified life if they have no free time to speak of. Pasar is an organisation that believes that we should bring time, leisure and our sense of time back to the forefront of the social agenda. To live a dignified life, you need to be able to organise your life in a certain way. Having time where you are completely free is an important factor.
Free time is not a luxury
Michel had some enlightening talks with labourers during a visit to the Dominican Republic with a Pasar delegation. “In a country where poverty is rife, free time is not seen as a luxury. People take it for granted that leisure time is essential for a good life. I recall the story of one man who was saying that he had to work seven days a week just to get by. He barely saw his children, and told me how sad that made him. Family relationships become more difficult to maintain, not to mention self-development. It becomes harder to have a dignified lifestyle.”
Major societal problems
The Dominican Republic is not the only place with this problem. “Here too, there are many people who struggle with the issue of how to spend their time. I have had many conversations with people, one of whom is psychiatrist Dirk De Wachter. I remember him saying that major societal problems are often linked to the immense pressure that people are under. Society makes people feel they are stretched too thin and over-burdened. As a result of this pressure, a growing group of people no longer feel capable of living a decent life. People feel that their lives are just busy, busy, busy. They are under pressure and burdened by busy-ness. This has become a major societal problem.”
Taking another look at our relationship with time
Time is core business for Pasar. The organisation, formerly known as “Vakantiegenoegens”, (Flemish for “holiday fun”) was founded in 1938 following the introduction of legal paid leave for workers. “Our organisation wanted to help workers and their families understand what to do with this newly-acquired free time. Eighty years later, our mission has changed. We now advocate for net free time, make people aware of the concept of net free time and inspire people to use their free time in a fulfilling way.
“You can also choose to do nothing at all: we don’t want to lecture people on how to spend their free time. It’s about getting a grasp on that free time again and discovering how we can spend it in ways which are meaningful to us." - Michel Vandendriessche
We want to encourage a societal debate about the modern relationship with time. We are a social and cultural organisation aiming to make progress together with our members and volunteers, reflecting and developing a range of quality options for using one’s net free time.”
“Net” free time?
Everybody understands the meaning of “free time” as the time you are not spending doing your (paid or unpaid) work, whereas “net free time” is the time left over when all your duties have been fulfilled. It is the time you have left after work, household tasks, social obligations, caring for small children or ageing parents... This time is important. We need it to fully rest, have fun, grow as human beings, be inspired, understand our lives better and make a difference in society.
The discussion is underway
The public debate has already begun, according to Michel. Numerous publications and conversations are cropping up on the subject of time, the flexibilisation of work, and working less. “Our colleagues from Femma are a good example. They were brave enough to put forward the idea of the 30-hour working week. The economic and neoliberal world has dismissed this as naive, but that’s far from the truth. We mustn’t brush this off. Instead, we should look at how we can develop these ideas further.”
Socio-cultural organisations can make a difference
The issue of time pressure is one that is felt by many. “When we were talking to our volunteers, they confirmed again and again that societal pressure has increased hugely in recent years, and that people are very keen to listen to suggestions and carry out actions that lighten the load. People want the chance to be masters of their own time again.” Pasar aim to develop political proposals in time for the next elections in 2018 and 2019. I am convinced that this will demonstrate- even before the elections- that socio-cultural organisations like Pasar are important for society. We bring people together, find out what makes Flemish people tick, learn from each other and try to raise awareness of certain points. These are all contributions that we and our hundreds of volunteers can make to change the environment we live in for the better.”