I was introduced to ’The Law of Jante’ after a somewhat “dispute” with an old Swedish woman… but instead of the “dispute” continuing, she decided to let me know about this “Law” and asked me to Google it. I’ve never been asked to go Google something as an end to a disagreement… for a woman who’s 77 years old, that was even more surprising.
I’m a Brazilian-Norwegian who grew up in Brazil, America, Spain with half of my life being spent in England. So I could see why she may have seen me as some alien. I have not been lucky enough to experience life in Norway which may have helped her to see me in a better light, had I done so.
I read the list out and thought… this sounds a lot like collectivism. That is when society is put first, before the needs of the individual.
It comes from a book entitled ‘A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks’, published in 1933. It is by a Danish-Norwegian author, Aksel Sandemose, and this part of the book is based on a small-town mentality that mirrored that of the town he lived in. He dreamed of being a writer and felt as if he was looked down upon for wishing this. According to his son’s autobiography, the author would crave others to acknowledge how great he was and if anyone did, he wouldn’t trust them anyway.
Allow me to go through the list and give my melodramatic stance on the matter. Bear in mind, I was asked to read this out after I was expressing my opinion so it was brought to me in a very negative light.
It is made up of ten rules so here we go.
(1) You’re not to think you are anything special.
WHAT? I’m someone who loves to promote that, if anything, EVERYONE is something special. We all have an equal say in this world… we all deserve happiness, health, wealth and all that good stuff. There is nothing more inspiring than seeing someone be their best selves or make the most of their lives, so yeah, even strangers are special to me.
(2) You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
You may be wondering, who is ‘we’? The ‘we’ is that of the citizens of the small town in the book, aptly named the town of Jante. I cannot believe people would be a fan of this in the way that this old Swedish woman was. So people seriously saw what this author wrote and they thought “OMG, this is the best thing ever. Let’s make people we disagree with Google this”, therefore assuming this way of thinking is “better” than anything they could have thought which already breaks a few of the rules. Tut tut! It becomes funnier to me when the author who wrote this was someone who was actually against people who think like that.
(3) You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
I’m sorry, but there are IQ tests that definitely state people are smarter than other people. I do not agree with the notion that the ‘smarter’ are better… smart is such a sparse description anyway. Someone who has academic smarts may not have street smarts so we all have the potential to be our version of “smart”.
(4) You’re not to imagine yourself better than we are.
Isn’t this just a more emphatic version on the second rule?
The thing is if someone says to you that you’re not better than them, they have in turn stated that they are better than you by telling you how you should think… no? Otherwise, the rule would be ‘You’re just as good as us”. I understood that being this way stops disputes and promotes pease. But trust me, you can be peaceful and in your head, you’re thinking of all the reasons why you dislike the other person… is that really for the best? Wouldn’t society reach a plateau or become a sea of souls who stop expressing their true selves?
(5) You’re not to think you know more than we do.
Haha, what? Okay, there are two main ways I see this. Firstly… there is the first philosophical question of “Do we even know anything? What is knowing?” etc. Secondly… let’s say people do know things, philosophers… it’s sure as heck clear that some people know more on certain topics than other people. If this weren’t the case, would we even have Google? Aha! Yeah, I know… these rules were written before Google but people turned to books, the Google of the before time (the before time is my term for pre-world wide web days).
(6) You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
Woah… this is actually one I agree with. And mainly because of the point I made under the first rule which is that… EVERYONE IS SPECIAL. So yes, no one is more important than anyone else. *Cue the applause* Well done, Jante Law!
(7) You’re not to think you are good at anything.
This is flat-out harsh. Not only “not good”… but “not good at anything”? Anything? If you look at some of the greats, you will hear a lot of stories on how people around them thought they were crazy and guess what? They became great because they believed they were good at something… they had value to bring to this world and did they bring it!
(8) You’re not to laugh at us.
The beauty of laughter is that it is a very natural reaction… apart from Jimmy Fallon’s laugh but everyone can see how fake that is so I digress. Laughing at each other and ourselves is an awesome way to bond with family and friends because it keeps us in touch with the fact that humans make mistakes… and instead of feeling worse about it, it’s always better to laugh about it. Right? Right!
(9) You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
Ah, doesn’t this one feel like you’re being hugged? No? That’s because it’s really mean. What about in the cases where people actually say ‘I care about you’… if you turn around and say ’No, because no one cares about me’… you’re gonna end up being alone probably.
(10) You’re not to think you can teach us anything.
Honestly, schools wouldn’t be a thing if this were true. YouTube tutorials would also cease to exist. Y’know, at least in a parallel universe where the entire world goes by this set of rules.
I really hope you learnt a lot from this… and if not, it’s probably because I can’t teach you anything, right? I joke, I kid, you learnt a lot AND your jaw has dropped to the floor just like this set of rules should.
There’s also an eleventh rule which states “Perhaps you don’t think we don’t know a few things about you?”.
To be honest, there is a lot of irony in this old Swedish woman asking me to Google this as if it would put her in a good light. She practically told me to read a list claiming that I am worth nothing. She comes from a small town in Sweden though so now I see where the “small-town mentality” the author drew inspiration comes from… too bad she couldn’t see how her suggestion opposed the argument she attempted to make.
This is my point, if we never point out each other’s mistakes in a kind and caring manner, society does not progress. A bad relationship will always remain a bad relationship if someone sees this as a way to validate you staying silent forever… And again, the IRONY. Oh my, the irony.
People on forums who live in Norway, Sweden and Denmark have said that Jante Law is still brought up in school but not in a way where it is taken seriously. It also has two separate views. You can look upon this list as a way to say that you are essentially equal to everyone else and shouldn’t put yourself or anyone else down for that matter. The other point of view is that it pushes down those who are considered “creative talents” or “geniuses”, a form of an unhealthy expression of their jealousy and promoting that it’s wrong to ever boast about one’s accomplishments. Many have reported that luckily the positive side was taken up the most, if at all.
With this in mind, the positive opinion of Jante Law is a reflection of Scandinavia’s egalitarian society and even if they won’t boast about their kindness and sense of peace, other societies have been happy to do the boasting for them. They don’t rank high for “the most friendly countries” for nothing.
I look forward to moving to Norway this August (2018) for studying, given the visa process here in Brazil goes smoothly. It will be a blessing to be closer to family, improve the language and perhaps get people’s opinions on “Janteloven” for myself.
Note: Apparently ‘Jante Law Bashing’ is a popular verbal sport… I only found this out after I wrote this blog though, but hey… I guess that’s what I’m doing here. Don’t take it all too seriously, I suppose. The old Swedish woman in my story is real though.