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Janteloven

September 11, 2011

I frequently spend time surfing the Net in search of information that I hope against hope will help me to make sense of this crazy world.  My personal preference for this research would be paper and ink, but books are as scarce as hen’s teeth here, so this dinosaur is forced to resort to newer, albeit in my opinion not entirely superior, technology.  I don’t really know why I persist in engaging in this masochistic diversion, but I do.  I am fully aware that I will never really make sense of it, but I keep trying.

Part of the problem is rooted in the part of my last post that speaks about truth.  Are we even able to tolerate truth?  How can one know what one knows?  What sources does one trust?   I am inclined to believe that truth lies in scripture, but even that gets messed up by a myriad of interpretations.  Everyone has some sort of agenda and to some degree distorts the truth to promote it.  A couple of minutes searching the Web will turn up any number of slants on almost any subject one chooses.  A relevant case in point for me these days is aid.  For mostly self-serving reasons, the West tends not only to overstate the effectiveness of aid, but also to underestimate its harmful effects.  I could really get off on a tangent here, but I will restrain myself.

How much have you heard about Haiti in the news lately?  The earthquake provided a media feeding frenzy, but the tribulation of the day-to-day lives of the people here is less than titillating.  The need for higher ratings drives the media to seek out the more dramatic stories, or the appearance of one, so they have moved on to other things.  In choosing what to report and how to report it, to a large degree the media create “truth.”

Anyway, in the course of my quest I set off down a rabbit trail (I am prone to such digression) and came across a tidbit that I think is of interest.

It is Janteloven, an old Scandinavian concept that has been engrained in Scandinavian societies for many years.  The author Aksel Sandemose, a Danish/Norwegian novelist, created it in his book A Refugee Crosses His Tracks, in which he portrays a fictional town called Jante.  The townspeople create an unwritten set of rules, the Janteloven, to promote harmony and social stability.  I think that, with perhaps the exception of one or two that don’t sit well with me (my North American bias is showing), we would all benefit from reflecting upon these rules a bit.  There is considerable wisdom here for all, and particularly for those of us who have come to help abroad.

  1. Don’t think that you are special.
  2. Don’t think that you are of the same standing as us.
  3. Don’t think that you are smarter than us.
  4. Don’t fancy yourself as being better than us.
  5. Don’t think that you know more than us.
  6. Don’t think that you are more important than us.
  7. Don’t think that you are good at anything.
  8. Don’t laugh at us.
  9. Don’t think that anyone cares about you.
  10. Don’t think that you can teach us anything.

An eleventh rule recognized in the novel is:

11.  Don’t think that there aren’t a few things we know about you.

 

I proffer this in my belief that perhaps Janteloven embodies more truth than the individualistic, self-promoting ideals we so cherish.

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