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”General surveillance of the population, ‘silent, mysterious, unperceived vigilance… it is the eye of the government ceaselessly open and watching without distinction over all citizens, yet without subjecting them to any measure of coercion whatever… It does not need to be written into the law” (Bonneville, 1847, 397-9)

Panopticon Janteloven (credit. orwells panopticon)
Panopticon Janteloven (credit. orwells panopticon)

If you live in Norway, you have most likely heard about the Janteloven. Many think that Janteloven refers to one unwritten rule that preaches equality. By doing so they minimize the explanation of what Janteloven is to a simple “one should not be a show off” answer, yet there seems to be more complexity underlying that concept. In this brief text we’ll dive a little to try and reflect upon the hidden meanings of this famous and controversial unwritten rule.

Well, almost nobody likes an arrogant show off and most of us would agree that fairness, impartial judgment and equal rights sounds like a pretty good combo – But does Janteloven really means equality and justice? Let ́s think.

If you are Scandinavian and have never read the romance by Aksel Sandemose, En flyktning krysser sitt spor, 1933, you might be surprised to find out that the Janteloven expression refers to a law that contains not one rule, but ten of them, all carrying pretty much the same spirit, as following:

  • You’re not to think you are anything special.
  • You’re not to think you are as good as we are.
  • You’re not to think you are smarter than we are.
  • You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than we are.
  • You’re not to think you know more than we do.
  • You’re not to think you are more important than we are.
  • You’re not to think you are good at anything.
  • You’re not to laugh at us.
  • You’re not to think anyone cares about you.
  • You’re not to think you can teach us anything.

In this novel, those who transgress the unwritten Jante ‘law’ are regarded with hostility, as enemies of the town’s communal desire to preserve social stability and uniformity.

After reading these 10 rules do you feel that they carry a spirit of fairness and justice? If so, it seems like an extremely distorted version of it. In that sense, Janteloven more willingly unveils a certain resistance to change and love for homogeneity rather than a flag pro equality. Janteloven is profoundly connected to a sense of uniformity.

And what is uniformity? It is the opposite of diversity. Uniformity is looking alike, thinking alike and acting alike.

If in this Jante world every citizen should ideally look similar, act similar and think similar, if you are not to learn anything from anyone, not to think that anybody has something special to add to the world and that nothing can be as good as life as we know it now. How can there be any progress?

Here lies the complexity. If you think your team is the best you most likely don’t want things to change. You think – how can it get any better than this, right? Ok, this is understandable, but here are 3 things you should consider:

  • As we mentioned in the beginning, no one likes a show off.
  • Even though we all seek complete stability, life is constantly flowing towards change and there is nothing we can do about it. We either accept the ephemerality of things and become active actors of transformation or we resist the inevitable and become trite critics of the unfolding life.
  • Diversity and change can be extremely enriching and positive when one is truly open to it. Every evolution humankind has ever experienced has came through change.

Once you think no one can possibly add anything to your team, people will not want to invite you to their parties – you will be the boring guy in the corner talking about yourself and not listening to anyone else.

If you are a leader that never listens to the voice of difference, you are teaching your team to contain their individualities, their best assets and potential because you are afraid of change.

We are all afraid of something even Amundsen, Heyerdahl, Knut Haukelid and Sverdrup were afraid of something. But these men were not Jante soldiers; they were real actors of change – entrepreneurs.

They were different, they were special. These transgressors of the Janteloven defied what others feared and thought was impossible. They faced death bravely, not because they had no fears, but because they had a purpose bigger than their fears. They would rather face death than a life of settled truths and mediocrity.

That is what entrepreneurs have in common we have a purpose that is bigger than our fears and we embrace change. We won’t let fears limit our vision of the world or ourselves. We think we have something special to share with the world, something different, and something that will change people’s life for the better.

We must face the facts as they are, not as we wish them to be and learn how to deal with them with maturity. We must be bold enough to take decisions and humble enough to take others opinion and well being into consideration.

The entrepreneur who makes his decisions based on fear will not own a successful company for long; neither will a society who evolves based on fear last in freedom, prosperity and peace for long.

Every act inspired by fear is a step towards slavery.



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