|Posted on January 24, 2010 at 6:50 AM|
Subject: The Jante Law, a fictional set of ten rules for behaving in society
Angle: The psychologically abusive nature of this set of silent rules, still practiced by many in Norwegian and Scandinavian society, sometimes in quietly creative ways.
Moral: Time for a change in cultural practices. If you recognize these elements in yourself or your surroundings, do your part to create a change.
It is hard not to notice the subtle signs that deep winter has hit Norway. The snows are beginning to repeat themselves, the skies are lighter but more gray, and the temperature never creeps high enough to melt the black ice-pack on most side-roads. However, there is another sign that we live in a constricting state, and that is the consistency and prevalence with which Norwegians practice the ten Jante rules. I like to mention them in the process of examining intercultural communication issues at the business college level. They are also apparent in everyday transactions - depending on the potential level of jealousy or envy involved. The more important the decision or the potential achievement by another, the wider their practice against that budding creative effort or singularly brilliant achiever. That is, with the exception of individual sports achievements, in which case it is always alright to do better than the next gal or guy.
I hope you enjoy reading these. I also hope you will call them what they are - a curse. If you find yourself confronted with situations in which they are being practiced, I hope you will do your part to counter their insidious depreciation of self-esteem and creative fulfillments. That would be a long-term cultural blessing, no matter what culture you call home.
The Jante Law (Janteloven)
The Jante Law is the most well-known material from the work of Axel Sandemose, (1899-1965), a Danish-born Norwegian experimental novelist. He went to sea in his youth, then 'jumped ship' in Newfoundland (Canadian territory) and worked in a lumber camp before returning to Denmark to take up writing. He settled in Norway in 1929. In 1933, his science-fiction work, En flyktning krysser sitt sport (A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks), was published.
This book contains the “Jante law” that regulates the citizenry of Jante, a fictional small town symbolic of the conventional society of his childhood. In it, he wrote, “You who have grown up elsewhere can never fully appreciate the inevitability of the Jante Law. You will find it funny and will never know its deadly oppression of a working-class youth in Jante. With the ten Jante Rules of the Jante Law, Jante holds its people down.”
Here are the Jante Rules (author’s italics retained in translation):
1. You shall not believe that you are something.
2. You shall not believe that you are equal to us.
3. You shall not believe that you are wiser than us.
4. You shall not imagine yourself better than us.
5. You shall not believe that you know more than us.
6. You shall not believe that you can rise above us.
7. You shall not believe that you are capable.
8. You shall not laugh at us.
9. You shall not believe that anyone cares about you.
10. You shall not believe that you can teach us anything.
Scandinavian social psychologists and management theorists now quote the Jante Law as an example of self-imposed restraints on human progress. As we can see, the applicability of the ten rules is perhaps more widespread, an aspect of various cultures, and of human nature.
Contexted for educational purposes by June Edvenson, Edvenson Consulting, 2009.
Most information provided here is found at: Living in Norway, A Practical Guide, originally by Patricia Crinion Bjaaland, 3rd edition by Michael Brady and Belinda Drabble (1999).