»Following your heart – in the social utopia of Sweden« could be the English title of this book in Swedish written by Jonas Himmelstrand and published in October 2007.
The literal translation would be »Following your heart – under the Swedish Jante Law«. The Jante Law is no juridical law, it is rather a cultural law originating from a novel from 1934 by Norwegian author Aksel Sandemose. It consists of ten negative self-denying phrases which people in Sweden often relate to when not wanting to stand up for themselves: »It's the Jante Law«, they say. (A full translation in English of the Jante Law can be found on Wikipedia.)
Needless to say it is difficult to follow your heart and your personal convictions in a culture where the Jante Law has any influence. This is what this solid book of 613 pages looks to unveil. Here is a short description of its message.
How can a society foster human potential and growth? This is the basic question the book tries to answer seen from the Swedish perspective. Sweden is a great example, as Sweden has probably gone further than any other country in trying to create the great socially conscious society. As Sweden often comes on top of international comparisons of social environment, many non-Swedes believe that Sweden is indeed the successful social utopia realised.
A closer look, however, will reveal serious cracks in the facade: Psychological ill heath among our youth, high levels of stress related sick leave, lack of order in schools, rising crime among youth and other symptoms show that the utopia is not delivering what it should in one of the richest, most egalitarian and physiologically healthiest nations of the world.
»Following your heart…« argues that the basic reasons for the problems is that the utopia has been created by outer oriented social engineering rather than by inner oriented personal growth. In fact, the social engineering has hindered a healthy human development and actually diminished people in fulfilling their inner humanity.
In which ways does Sweden hinder its citizens to grow? Of course, Sweden is a political democracy respecting human rights to a high degree. So the hindrances are subtle: A taxation system forcing dual-earner households to a higher degree than perhaps anywhere else in the Western world. Thus nearly 85% of all 1–5 year olds are in day care. Fewer people start their own businesses in Sweden, tax laws encourage employment rather than entrepreneurship. Employment security laws, although well-intentioned, have the side effect of discouraging people to change jobs. The longer you stay at a job, the more difficult it is to fire you under these laws. So people stay on their job, even if it does not make them happy or help them grow; for reasons of employment security. State institutions give powerful voices to whatever ideological agenda the government has at the time. For many years this agenda has been equality, a strong work policy and day care for all children 1–5 years of age.
The result is that Swedes work more than in most other Western countries. Especially women work more, and often in low paid jobs in the public sector. Also Swedes experience that they work the most, according to one study. Thus they have little time for family life or engagement in civil society.
Are there any dissidents in Sweden? Yes, there are the small businesses, the home parents and the home schooling families. Where as small businesses accepting the tax laws are accepted, home parents are often ridiculed in the media and their organisations discriminated. Although currently allowed by law, home schoolers are by some local governments threatened by social authorities and fines. Sweden has only about 100 home schooled children. A new school law proposed in June 2009 threatens to make home schooling illegal for most families in Sweden. (The Swedish Association of Home Education has more information: www.rohus.nu.)
Following your heart in Sweden is therefore difficult for many inner-directed people. Few people protest, however, but instead many are stressed of which some eventually go on sick leave or early retirement because of stress related disease.
»Following your heart…« suggests that Sweden must open up to inner oriented initiatives from its citizens if the nation is to survive socially in the long term. Today Sweden, very slowly but surely, is going downhill in social matters due to its inability to acknowledge human growth and initiative, the value of family and of mankind's spiritual nature.
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An English translation of the Table of Contents of »Following your heart…« can be found here.
A speech by the author on the Future of Family given at a seminar in the Swedish Parliament can be read in English translation here.