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Paulo Coelho, “Jante’s Shield: The Law of Jante”

Monday, October 31, 2016 18:41
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Jante’s Shield: The Law of Jante”
by Paulo Coelho


“‘The Law of Jante?’ Of course I had never heard of this, so he explained what it was. I continued on my journey and discovered it is hard to find anyone in any of the Scandinavian countries who does not know this law. Although the law exists since the beginning of civilization, it was only officially declared in 1933 by writer Aksel Sandemose in the novel “A Refugee Goes Beyond Limits.”

The sad truth is that the Law of Jante is a rule applied in every country in the world, despite the fact that Brazilians say that “this only happens here,” and the French claim that “unfortunately, that’s how it is in our country.” Now, the reader must be annoyed because he/she is already half way through the column and still does not know what the Law of Jante is all about, so I’ll try to explain it here briefly in my own words:


“You aren’t worth a thing, nobody is interested in what you think, 
mediocrity and anonymity are your best bet. 
If you act this way, you will never have any big problems in life.”

The Law of Jante focuses on the feeling of jealousy and envy that sometimes causes so much trouble for people. This is one of its negative aspects, but there is something far more dangerous. And this law is accountable for the world being manipulated in all possible manners by people who have no fear of what the others say and end up practicing the evil they desire. We have witnessed useless war in Iraq and elsewhere, which are still costing many lives; we see a huge abyss between the rich and the poor countries of the world, social injustice on all sides, unbridled violence, people being forced to give up their dreams because of unfair and cowardly attacks. Before starting the second world war, Hitler sent out several signals as to his intentions, and what encouraged him to go ahead was the knowledge that nobody would dare to defy him because of the Law of Jante.

Mediocrity may be comfortable, up to the day that tragedy knocks at the door and people start to wonder: “but why did nobody say anything, if everybody could see that this was going to happen?” Simple: nobody said anything because the others did not say anything either. So in order to prevent things from growing any worse, maybe this is the right moment to write the anti-Law of Jante:

“You are worth far more than you think. Your work and presence on this Earth are important, even though you may not think so. Of course, thinking in this way, you might have many problems because you are breaking the Law of Jante– but don’t feel intimidated by them, go on living without fear and in the end you will win.”

“Law of Jante”

“Sandemose wrote about the working class in the town of Jante, a group of people of the same social position. He expressly stated in later books that the social norms of Jante were universal and not intended to depict any particular town or country. It should be understood that Sandemose was seeking to formulate and describe attitudes that had already been part of the Danish and Norwegian psyche for centuries. Today, however, it is common in Scandinavia to claim the Law of Jante as something quintessentially Danish, Swedish, or Norwegian.

There are ten rules in the law as defined by Sandemose, all expressive of variations on a single theme and usually referred to as a homogeneous unit: You are not to think you’re anyone special or that you’re better than us. These ten principles or commandments are often claimed to form the “Jante’s Shield” of the Scandinavian people. In the book, the Janters who transgress this unwritten ‘law’ are regarded with suspicion and some hostility, as it goes against the town’s communal desire to preserve harmony, social stability and uniformity. The ten rules state:

“You’re not to think you are anything special.
You’re not to think you are as good as us.
You’re not to think you are smarter than us.
You’re not to convince yourself that you are better than us.
You’re not to think you know more than us.
You’re not to think you are more important than us.
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.”

An eleventh rule recognized in the novel as ‘the penal code of Jante’ is:
“Perhaps you don’t think we know a few things about you?”

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