Blend in or stand out? | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, April 20, 2018 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:00 AM, April 20, 2018

DOUBLE TAKE

Blend in or stand out?

Ever wondered why the Scandinavian countries—Denmark, Norway and Sweden—top the World Happiness Report year after year? No? Well, I have. You kind of have to when your country stands 115th on this year's list.

Of course, the Scandinavian countries possess their individual national characters, but if there's one socio-cultural norm that's common it's “Janteloven” or the Law of Jante. The concept was created by the Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose, who, in his novel “A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks” introduced the Law of Jante as ten rules. 

The rules outline group behaviour that perceives individual success and achievement condescendingly. The Law of Jante essentially discourages competitiveness to attain singular glory and places all emphasis on the collective—castigating those who try to stand out.

The rules are quite simple:

1.            You're not to think you are anything special.

2.            You're not to think you are as good as we are.

3.            You're not to think you are smarter than we are.

4.            You're not to imagine yourself better than we are.

5.            You're not to think you know more than we do.

6.            You're not to think you are more important than we are.

7.            You're not to think you are good at anything.

8.            You're not to laugh at us.

9.            You're not to think anyone cares about you.

10. You're not to think you can teach us anything.

The language is harsh, no doubt, but I reckon the intention is to dissuade arrogance and entitlement. An oversimplified interpretation might be: Be nice and humble. In this dog-eat-dog world where “I” and “my” dominate the narrative, perhaps choosing the wellbeing of the community and the values of the whole over the individual is not a bad thing.

Example 1: You stood first in your class, and though it's not considered “illegal”, it's not socially acceptable for you to gloat. Your parents shoving your excellent grades down the throats of the neighbours whose son/daughter didn't do as well would get them labelled as social pariahs. 

Example 2: You can afford to buy a European car but because everyone else in the neighbourhood owns Toyotas, your expensive car would be taken as a sign of bragging. So, you go for something less conspicuous.

If the abovementioned scenarios sound appealing to you, understand that conformity does not necessarily ensure utopia. Conformity can also encourage mediocrity.

I'll leave you with this quote from the film, “The Third Man” [delivered by Orson Welles' character]: “In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, and they had 500 years of democracy and peace. And what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Karim Waheed is the Editor of SHOUT and can be reached at karim.w.25@gmail.com

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