Scandinavian Culture: The Law of Jante

There’s a fascinating social/cultural code in Scandinavia called the ‘Law of Jante’ that I only recently came across in the past year, but surprised me in the fact that I feel I’ve lived most of my life with these same beliefs (genetics and lineage truly run deep.)

“The Laws of Jante go back to a fictional book by the Norwegian writer Axel Sandemose. In his brilliant book from 1933 called A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks, he writes about the Danish town called Jante and the unwritten social code that defines everything in it. This novel describes the author’s alter ego, Espen, a sailor who sets about discovering himself through his childhood in a town. In fact, what Sandemose really did was document this social code that was present all over Denmark and Norway and to an extent Sweden, too. Across all of Scandinavia, this peculiar set of ‘laws’ or rules exists. Not mentioned, but always there, silently enforced by everybody in unison. These are known as ‘The Laws of Jante.'” – from the ScandiKitchen.

Upon reading, maybe these seem a little harsh. It’s just because they’re worded simply so they’re easy to remember. Let me translate them in my own way:

1. DON’T THINK YOU ARE ANYTHING SPECIAL.

We’re all special and unique – we can’t be ‘more unique’ than someone else. It’s impossible. You will always be different in some way, shape, or form, no matter what.

2. DON’T THINK YOU ARE BETTER THAN US.

Again, each and every one of us is better at something than someone else. Yet that someone else will be better at something that you aren’t. Thinking you’re wholly better than someone else for one thing is silly.

3. DON’T THINK YOU ARE SMARTER THAN US.

Similar to the above, you’ll never actually be smarter than someone else. They will always know something that you don’t, regardless of what knowledge base it comes from. I know plenty of tradespeople who have a larger knowledge base than those with college degrees. Yes, you may know way more than they do about astrophysics. But when you call a tradesperson for help with a home repair, you’re asking them for help because you don’t have the knowledge they do. We should celebrate that.

4. DON’T CONVINCE YOURSELF YOU ARE BETTER THAN WE ARE.

A sidebar from #2: once you’ve convinced yourself that you belong up on the pedestal, it’s going to hurt way more when you fall off.

5. DON’T THINK YOU KNOW MORE THAN WE DO.

See #3.

6. DON’T THINK YOU ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN WE ARE. This is a big one right now for the collective. Thinking and acting like you’re more important than someone else is causing harm. All of the previous points of the ‘law’ build up to this – we are all unique, we are all intelligent, and we are all important.

7. DON’T THINK YOU ARE THE *VERY* BEST AT ANYTHING.

Now, I really don’t think this one is meant to shame yourself or to pull back and be hyper-humble. Be proud of what you can do and what you do well! There’s a line between soulful pride and rampant ego. If we convince ourselves that we are the best at something, hands down, then we close the door on learning and improvement. We can always improve and keep working towards *our* best version of what it is we do. But we must also recognize that there are other ‘best’ people in our fields who do things differently than we do. Instead of comparison, judgment, and tearing each other down – why can’t we recognize the many ‘bests’?

8. DON’T RIDICULE US.

What is normal and acceptable to you may (read: probably) differ from others who live in different parts of the world (or even next to you). Ridiculing others means you put yourself in the position of the judge. Do you really feel qualified to judge others? Personally, I’d rather let Odin and Tyr handle the judging.

9. DON’T ASSUME THAT YOU’RE ENTITLED (to other people’s time, energy, or resources.)

Always ask. Never assume. [Blind] expectations breed resentment. It is perfectly okay to have expectations (since they’re an extension of personal boundaries) of how people can use your time, energy, or resources. Just clearly communicate it at the time. If they don’t agree with your expectations, then they can go elsewhere.

10. DON’T THINK THAT YOU NEED TO TEACH US ANYTHING.

Ah. The culmination of it all. Even if you do think you *could* teach someone something – did they ask you? [I’d love to go tell religious conversion ‘missions’ this]. Too many of us believe that our way is *the* way. Ego. Sure, others’ ways may not be pleasant. Or helpful. But what’s the point of trying to forcibly teach them if they aren’t open to listen? The best way you can teach people is by not teaching at all. Just live your way. Those who notice may decide to follow in your steps.

After reading through these points, you may not be surprised by the common thread – why this cultural code came to exist in the place that it did. In ancient times, surviving in Scandinavia was difficult, and even more difficult if you were alone. Fostering healthy connections and relationships with your neighbors and your tribe was a MUST if you wanted to keep going.

If you lacked the knowledge of hunting, then you better hope that one of the hunters liked you enough to teach you how, or was gracious enough to bring enough back for you, too.

If you were the ‘best’ healer in the village and you decided that someone wasn’t important enough for your services – they would likely die, their family would grieve, and it wouldn’t bode well for you for the village to know you only treated *certain* people.

On that same note, if you were the ‘best’ healer – what happens when you die and you haven’t passed on your knowledge to anyone else, keeping your secrets so you could remain the ‘best’? Everyone suffers, all for you to keep your ego happy.

These are just a few examples, and maybe they’re pulled from ancient times, but I still see the world very much like this today, and it feels like the strong ship that my ancestors built to carry me through this life, inscribed in Runes in the bow. Remember where you came from, remember where you’re going.

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