Janters went to therapy

• Updated

Danish-Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose wrote about the rules of a fictional, small Danish town called Jante in his book A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks (1933). While fictional, the disapproving attitude towards expressions of individualism and personal success are real parts of Scandinavian culture.

I’ve lost count of how many times Swedes have replied jantelagen to me when sharing difficulties or frustrations with immigration. While said cheekily, problems that occur from not being like everyone else often are treated as acceptable consequences. Needing accomodation is a personal problem, not an exception case a society should be able to tolerate.

I admire the aggressive egalitarian ideal of Sverige, but am puzzled by the use of it as a maximum instead of a minimum. Conformity seems to be valued more than the upside of innovations and accolades from non-conformity. Ask Alexander Skarsgård.

The Law of Jante is a behavior to be unlearned, not admired. It’s time for Janters to go to therapy. Fully formed adults with emotional intelligence replace a scarcity mindset of fear with the abundance mindset of seeing possibilities, even when resources are limited.

I am not a therapist, but I have had years of therapy. Below are the laws of Jante crossed out and replaced by a healthier thought. Instead of telling outsiders how to act, the healthier thoughts help a Janter focus on their own behavior. Curiosity replaces fear. Growth opportunities replace zero-sum thinking. Compassion replaces retaliation.

Law Affirmations of Jante

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

    I will be curious about what makes you unique.

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

    I will value your strengths.

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

    I will value your expertise.

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

    I will support your effort to improve yourself.

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

    I will learn from your life experiences that are different from mine.

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

    I will not assume you are judging me.

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

    I will share my strengths with you if they can help you become stronger.

  8. You’re not to laugh at us.

    I will welcome a fresh perspective to help improve my self-awareness.

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

    I will care about your wellbeing.

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

    I will be teachable.

  11. Perhaps you don’t think we know a few things about you?

    I will be compassionate towards you.


Post image composed of Chart of the Face by Dr. Alesha Sivartha (1834) and the title page of A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks (1936).

Selected comments

  • “Sweden demands a high amount of conformity and societal norms are rather narrow. The consequence of non-conformity is often ostracisation.” —Thomas H