Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wednesday Wish (112); Broaden your Self

photo by katerina plotnikova via

The cold North Sea wind whistled through my earrings and turned my cheeks a rosy pink. I pedaled harder, letting its frigid strength renew the power of my legs, my frozen fingers, my fast beating, invigorated heart. I was an American girl, after all, a child of the Cold War, of capitalism-is-good and socialism-is-bad, and here I was pedaling my bike to school in Europe, eighteen years old, with the Berlin Wall still standing just a couple hundred miles away. I was on my own, a lone foreigner in a beautiful new land and this fresh, freezing wind was my competition. I was not going to let it win.

By the time I got to school, I was exhausted. My legs felt like jelly, my hair was a scraggled mess and my heart was beating right out of my chest. I was a mess and I knew my father would be proud because I fought the wind and won. I walked up the stairs to my first class with a proud smile on my face.

Learning college-level math in a foreign language is not something I recommend. Truth is, probably every other person in my class would tell you that it wasn’t anywhere near college level math. But for me, a young woman feeling like a character on the ‘Peanuts’ listening to the teacher and her ‘blah, blah, blah’s’, it might as well of been Phd level math. I didn’t understand a single word.

So when my desk mate, Ole, mumbled the answer to one of the questions and didn’t raise his hand to share it with the rest of the class, I was shocked. The math teacher chastised the class—did no one know anything? Were we all asleep? (Or at least that’s what I thought he was saying.) I looked over at Ole. Still, he sat silent.

            “Why don’t you raise your hand?” I whispered to him. “You know the answer!”
            Ole shook his head, and took a second to collect his thoughts. His English was impeccable so I knew he both understood me and would have no problem responding. “We aren’t like you Americans,” he said. “We Danes, we don’t like to stand out, to shine, as you say in English. We think more of the group than ourselves.”
            I blinked in thought, waiting for him to continue.
            “If you stand out in the USA, most of the time you are praised, rewarded for beating others out. Here in Denmark, it doesn’t usually work that way. If we stand out too much, we don’t have as many friends because we are thinking more of ourselves than others. If we brag, we are avoided, not embraced.”

I started to argue with him in my head, but each time I did, my argument came up short.

            We all deserve to shine … yes, but we ALL deserve to shine
            Speak your mind …but isn’t it better to first, do no harm?
            Show your talents … but give others a chance to do the same
            Think of yourself … but what about the satisfaction of thinking of others?

So I sat mute, stunned into silence as I watched a young man in my classroom say nothing of what he knew for the sake of the group.

Maybe I had gotten the competition part of life all wrong. Maybe life wasn’t win-lose. Maybe I had embarked upon a whole new way of seeing life. And all because of my eighteen-year-old desk mate Ole who once, years ago, thought beyond just himself.

*          *          *

What if we didn’t honk when someone wasn’t moving out of the way, but got out of our car and checked to see if they were alright? What if someone wasn’t acting kindly and we responded with loving words? What if a child chose not to listen and we took it as an invitation to not listen, with them? What if we stopped demanding, taking, wanting for ourselves and started to try on the perspectives of the people all around us? What if suddenly we realized a more fulfilling life could be ours… if we just stopped thinking only of ourselves?

Would we make different choices?

What if life is win-win, not win-lose? What then? Would we stop competing with others and start competing only with ourselves?

What if loving yourself, at its best, is loving everything around you, too? Because isn’t love, in its purest form, all-encompassing, never selective? And then, if we love ourselves enough, and believe in a win-win world, wouldn’t we have more than enough love to go around? Wouldn’t giving be easy, natural, even second nature?

Broaden your Self—your thinking, your love.
… think, beyond …

And shine brighter than you ever have before, 
just as the rest of the world has always wanted you to.


  1. I don't recall the incident, but I imagine I was explaining one of the "most Danish things" to you: the "Jante" law.

    The Jante law begins with telling you never to think you're worth anything, and its next nine commandments are variations of how you should never believe you may somehow climb beyond "our" level.

    "We" and "our" are of course meant in a broader sense than the inhabitants of the fictional(?) village of Jante in that "we" are a locus: it is the self-righteous belief that you're so self-sufficient and untouchable that you need no externally provided reason and that you're beyond critique and punishment. This invulnerability does not result from believing to be spotless and beyond mistakes; instead,you avoid both accusation and punishment because of the eleventh, unspoken commandment of the Jante law: we know something about you that we may use against you. This perpetual threat allows you to feel self-righteous because it prevents the intervention of others--because in a society where everyone knows each others' secrets, no-one will challenge another.

    In short, the Jante law is not particularly attractive or commendable. In Denmark, a reference to the Jante law is comparable to Godwin's law except that in Denmark the invocation of the Jante law is not considered bad form: it is the ultimate termination of a debate because there's nothing worse to say about an opponent in Denmark than to claim he is a Jante.

    So, if you suggest an upper limit for someone to exploit others, you're immediately accused of being a Jante, and you can only avoid the accusation by retroactively shutting up. It is awkward to be known as a Jante, so you had better stop believing you have anything to say. Successful people have never complained that the Jante law stood in their way; instead, it has protected them against those people who later found themselves exploited.

    Nonetheless, I miss the Jante law. Our previous government fired experts in a row because they shouldn't pretend to be knowledgeable, and so the government placed their own "experts" in their positions. In that sense, they created a new generate of Jante where opinions and intentions replaced knowledge and qualifications, guessing and ornamentation replaced analyses and results, and power and profit replaced consequence and society.

    If you ask me, I want the Jante law back and with it the old Jante. I want a Jante law where the expert may tell the fool to be wrong and not believe he is worthy, nor that anyone take the fool's rubbish seriously. I want Jante law where minorites may reject the lies of ages past by reminding the atavists that they have no worth.

    I am sick of letting the stupid third of the population gain influence via an openly racist and fascist party known as Dansk Folkeparti. They have no damn business thinking they're smarter than I am. I am sick of right-wing politicians dismissing the accumulated knowledge and insights of thousands of experts and researchers simply because these politicians think they know better. They, too, have no damn business thinking they're smarter than the experts.

    So the Jante law is a dual-edged sword: you can curb yourself for the better good of everyone else, allowing others the taste of success and worth, and in the end allowing everyone to shine; but you may also thus pave the way to a Hell of incompetent rulers and malevolent guidance.

    1. I loved your passion and your brilliant mind all those many years ago....and it seems neither you nor I will ever tire. You with your brilliance and passion, me with adoring you:) Thank you, Ole, for always giving me something fresh and bright to think about and feel!

  2. (Your blog always eats my comments, so I'll repost in case it doesn't miraculously reappear)

    A lovely post and a fascinating response from your friend Ole. :)

    1. I am soo sorry about the commenting issues, T. I wish I could fix them. Others have mentioned similar things. Sigh. But...happy you were finally able to post. Thank you for your kind, supportive words, my friend:)