The Scandinavian countries stand apart from the rest of the world. Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland confidently hold the highest positions in the rankings of prosperous countries. They are ahead of everyone in terms of the level of well-being of the population, the stability of credit ratings and indicators of gender equality. Scandinavians are called the most well-mannered people in the world, they trust the government and each other, are satisfied with the education and health care system, care about nature and speak English almost better than the inhabitants of Britain. They are proud of their political and economic independence. But the surprising thing is that this exemplary model of behavior in Northern Europe rests on principles that deny the human right to individuality.
Don’t think that you are special.
Don’t think you’re our equal.
Don’t think you’re smarter than us.
Don’t imagine that you are better than us.
Don’t think you know more than us.
Don’t think you’re more important than us.
Don’t think that you can do everything.
You shouldn’t laugh at us.
Don’t think anyone cares about you.
Don’t think that you can teach us.
These 10 rules – the so-called Jante’s law (Janteloven) – were formulated by the Danish writer Axel Sandemuse in 1933 in the novel The Fugitive Crosses His Trail. The novel is set in the fictional town of Yant, populated mostly by workers. They live in equality, which guarantees a set of unwritten rules. Any attempt to violate them is punishable by public contempt. The “fugitive” became a verdict on Scandinavian society, and the Jante law became a derogatory label for all Scandinavians.
In everyday life, Jante’s 10 commandments actually come down to one: don’t think you’re special. For Scandinavians, going against the fundamental principles of equality means going against society, something that few people are willing to do. Equality also implies modesty. A law-abiding citizen tries to be as inconspicuous as possible. He will always prefer a bicycle to a car, and when meeting him, he will almost certainly lie that he serves as a simple worker.
If you think that you are better than the rest, then you deny the other his virtues and abilities, and therefore do not recognize him as your equal. Norwegians are a team. They are rightly considered one of the most united and equal nations. If a citizen feels uncomfortable, something irritates him or he is psychologically tired, then it is considered that he should participate more actively in social activities. Having received a promotion or bought a new car, a Scandinavian is unlikely to celebrate it with colleagues or neighbors. On the contrary, the first thing he thinks about is how to make sure that no one knows about it.
It’s very Scandinavian – the humbler you are, the happier you are. In addition, by not exposing yourself, you avoid envy. Sociologists note that envy arises only within one class, i.e. for an ordinary citizen there is no reason for the envy of the royal family or a big businessman. However, even IKEA founder Ingvar Kamprad, one of the richest men in the world, is still loyal to his old Volvo. If he changes to a Jaguar, then people will not understand and will no longer respect him.
While in the USA and Western Europe individualism is encouraged in every possible way, in the Scandinavian countries the opposite is true. Young people, for the most part, do not try to achieve something greater than those around them, do not strive to stand out, because this means for them a conscious exit from society. Such insecurity frightens people, and they prefer not to take risks.
Jante’s 10 postulates are historically considered natural norms of behavior – few will doubt their legitimacy, many unquestioningly obey them and have no desire to change anything. Jante’s law primarily warns people against arrogance and boasting. No matter what success we have achieved in sports or in business, we must not forget our origins, relatives and childhood friends. After all, it is impossible to shine within a society where everyone is equal.