Law of Jante

By Eleni Sarantinou, Coach, Trainer Co-Author of Everyday NLP and much missed friend.

The Law of Jante; a Scandinavian concept and as a strong believer of everyone’s good intention that I am, I am all for the initial beautiful thought behind it. The Law was meant to work on equality and harmony among people promoting modesty and humbleness. The aftermath of this law’s application though could be characterized as detrimental to the Scandinavian self-confidence, to put it mildly.

Consisting of 10 main rules including ‘You’re not to think anyone cares about you’ and ‘You’re not to think you are good at anything’, it is clear that the law’s creators and followers were not aware of the unconscious mind.

The unconscious mind of people is the most powerful tool in the universe and feeds on compliments and re-assurance. It thinks and processes information like a child around 7 years old no matter how old we are. Try to tell any child how ‘not’ special they are, how ‘not’ really anyone cares about them and how ‘not’ good they are at anything and see how happy they will look and act.

The ideas of the Law of Jante are not unique to the Scandinavian society who basically went a step further and put a name on them; every country has similar ideas against individuals standing out. Aesop’s fable ‘The fox & the grapes’ describes the exact same behaviour such ideas promote:
Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine but was unable to, although he leaped with all his strength. As he went away, the fox remarked, ‘Oh, you aren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes.’

The fable’s wisdom is that people who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain would do well to apply this story to themselves. The Law of Jante at its best hopes ‘not’ to compare with others and as a result it promotes to ‘only’ compare with others and neglects each and everyone’s talents, individuality, diversity and personal journey. The creators and followers of such ideas choose for a weak path, the path of excuses, the path to bring everyone else down to their level instead of acknowledging shortcomings and figuring out new ways to achieve what they want.

How many more decades, centuries need to pass before we start feeling proud about each other’s successes and feel them like our own? Choose to get inspired instead of first calculate the ‘advantages’ the ‘chosen’ had over us, before we feel envious?
Someone once asked me: ‘You can handle failure but can you handle success?’ only to make me realize that I was raised and trained to constantly be prepared for a new challenge, problem and drama for me to handle, making me feel more comfortable when in trouble than in bliss & triumph, running faster to help people in need than to share people’s moment of glory.

I am asking you: ‘Don’t we all have the right and the responsibility to change ‘that’ for us, our children and the generations to come?’