If you want to know what drives Swedish psychology/mentality it can’t be summarized with two words: “Jante Law”.
What is it?
The Law of Jante is a pattern of group behaviour towards individuals within Scandinavian communities, which negatively portrays and criticises individual success and achievement as unworthy and inappropriate. The Jante Law as a concept was created by the Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose, who in his novel A fugitive crosses his tracks identified the Law of Jante as ten rules. Sandemose’s novel portrays the small Danish town Jante (modelled upon his native town Nykøbing Mors as it was at the beginning of the 20th century, but typical of all small towns and communities), where nobody is anonymous.
Generally used colloquially as a sociological term to negatively describe an attitude towards individuality and success common in Scandinavia, the term refers to a mentality which de-emphasizes individual effort and places all emphasis on the collective, while discouraging those who stand out as achievers.
The term is often used negatively.
There are ten different rules in the law as defined by Sandemose, all expressive of variations on a single theme and are usually referred to as a homogeneous unit: Don’t think you’re anyone special or that you’re better than us.
The ten rules state:
- Don’t think you’re anything special.
- Don’t think you’re as good as us.
- Don’t think you’re smarter than us.
- Don’t convince yourself that you’re better than us.
- Don’t think you know more than us.
- Don’t think you are more important than us.
- Don’t think you are good at anything.
- Don’t laugh at us.
- Don’t think anyone cares about you.
- Don’t think you can teach us anything.
An eleventh rule recognized in the novel is:
11. Don’t think that there aren’t a few things we know about you.
In the book, the Janters who transgress this unwritten ‘law’ are regarded with suspicion and some hostility, as it goes against communal desire in the town to preserve harmony, social stability and uniformity.
These 11 principles or commandments form the “Jante’s Shield” of the Scandinavian people.