Thomas Freitag

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An innvandrer from the United States married to a Norwegian with three fantastic Norwegian-American kids.

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Taking time to think

Publisert rundt 9 år siden

I took a pause in my engagement in verdidebatt.no, to observe, to reflect, to more carefully formulate my thoughts into words. And I've read quite a bit.

Since my first involvement in verdidebatt.no just after the Oslo/Utoya attrocities, I felt the need to pull back a bit, to take some time to analyze and understand the implications of these incidents on the Norwegian soul-- and to evaluate how my own words either contribute to or hinder Norway's path to healing.  Feelings were understandably very raw at first.  The situation deserved and deserves an element of tender respect which a blogg may fail to convey: there are certain inherent weaknesses to social communication such as this.  Words elicite power in ways one may not initially foresee; thoughts can easily be misconstrued.  So I took a pause in my engagement in verdidebatt.no, to observe, to reflect, to more carefully formulate my thoughts into words.  

And I've read quite a bit.  I've found a whole gammut of academic books analyzing Norwegian culture and society:  Marianne Gullestad's Det Norske sett med nye oyne (I apologize that the pc I'm working on is missing the special Norwegian letters) and Nina Witoszek's more recent work The Origins of the "Regime of Goodness": Remapping the Cultural History of Norway, among others.  I even dusted off my intro to social psychology text book for some foundational research on intergroup differentiation and ingroup bias and the like and how it may be applied to Norway.  But much of this wonderful research seems so impersonal and removed from my own day-to-day experiences of living in this great, little land. 

Take, for example, my first experiences on the streetcars in Oslo many years ago:  I never, ever could have foreseen the moment when an elderly woman became insulted at the well-meaning gesture of offering my seat to her.  Or the rainy night a young mother with two small, screaming kids and shopping bags galore sneared at me when I offered her my seat-- though she took it in the end.  I learned very quickly that Norwegians are a proud bunch who do not want to appear weak in any way: they want to stand on their own two feet, except when hell or high water come, then this wonderful dynamic of the 'dugnad' spirit comes forth and everyone pitches in to help in time of need.  Even lost gloves and hats are placed on fences to make it easier for those who have lost them to find them.  

I also learned that some of the smallest things in Norwegian culture will be defended to the death, like when I lovingly and painstakingly made my then-fiancee pannekaker in time for her to come home from work, and have everything fall apart when I served strawberry jam with them with nerr a jar of blueberry jam in the house. And I learned, rather abruptly, that one does not greet someone one does not know, as when passing casually on the sidewalk, because it causes the one greeted much angst as he or she quickly processes where on earth he or she must have met the greeter some time in his or her distant or recent past.  

There are many facets of Norwegian life one observes.  Like how Norwegians hybernate and turn into themselves when the sun seeps away and the cold dark winter nights settle on the soul and candles are lit and blankets are strewn across the sofas where everything is just so fantastically 'koselig' inside the home, to reappear again with the sun and warmth of spring-- with the perennial neighbor disputes over a tree that casts a shadow over an insignificant portion of the garden.  Or how there is no happier Norwegian than one who is skiing alone on the vidda, to become the most sour of Norwegians when another passes him or her on the same vidda.  Or how it seems that Norwegians really weren't created for life in the city, where they appear cold and cranky and selfish (I can't count the number of times I've been nearly bolled over by a Norwegian at the local store as they cut in front of me to grab a carton of milk) but how Norwegians simply soften and flourish up at the hytta or on the boat, singing ballads well into the night over good wine or beer or both. You can't find quality observations like these in the sociological tomes written on Norwegian culture.   

Observing the political and social landscape of Norway, however, isn't as easy.  Within the immigration debate, for example, there are at least five distinct issues which are chronically mashed up and confused and muddled together, making any kind of serious query into these issues very difficult indeed:  one, the seeming paradox between the 'public' and 'private' responses to immigration observed in Norwegian society; two, the reasons why persons from other countries land on Norway's shores or train stations, and whether or not anything could or should be done about it; three, the quality of life and opportunities immigrants have in Norway; four, the impact immigration has on Norwegian culture and society; and five, the pace of immigration and to what degree the government has prepared the nation for the societal shifts immigration has brought on its people.  There are of course various other facets of complexity that enter into the picture; each of these issues can and should be evaluated and addressed in there own right-- and how they may influence each other. The breadth and depth of these topics go beyond the limitations of a simple blogg, though they may be touched on in subsequent bloggs.  But any slight mention of immigration issues on verdidebatt.no will brand me as some sort of flaming Frp'er, and we all know what happened to them during the recent election. 

In the mean time, I will continue my quiet observations, just as we all continue in the healing process from the wounds of the summer. Take the process of a conversation with a Norwegian, for instance:  if said Norwegian mentions any topic in a positive light, the appropriate response is to make a comment with some degree of negativity.  This rule also holds in its reciprocal form:  each and every negative comment must in turn be counteracted with an ensuing comment with a positive slant, a kind of rolly-polly yin-yang canter-- otherwise the entire conversation completely stops up.  It goes something like this:  "Didn't Ragnhild serve the most delicious tapas the other night!" "Yes, but the caterer must have cost her a fortune!" "But I heard she got a good deal for ordering so much." "Yes, but did you see how much food was simply wasted after the party?  It could have fed the nation of Burkina Faso for a month!" --and on the conversation goes ad finitum.  But if "Didn't Ragnhild serve the most delicious tapas the other night!" is followed by "Yes, they were the most delicious tapas I've ever tasted," -- the conversation, in line with the Norwegian Conversation Rule, will peter out immediately and will leave Ragnhild's friends looking at their watches to avoid eye contact with each other. Try it for fun and mess up the system and see for yourself how fast a conversation simply dribbles away to nothing. One last observation: how much better service I receive in stores and banks when I put on a polite American smile and express myself in my most friendly and perfect American English-- one of my own, private little survival techniques living as a foreigner in this great, little land called Norway.  

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Any inference to this man not being one of us, or any distancing we do from him, alleviates us from the responsibility of examining our own inner fears, dark thoughts and screaming consciences.

Dear Morten, Knut, and Ole David,

Thank you for all of your comments to my earlier article. As you may have discovered, I am more comfortable writing in English (I started Norwegian lessons too late in life) but I do understand the written language (bokmål, i hvert fall). So it was quite fine for you to respond in Norwegian, though Ole David, your written English is exemplary!

Morten, I realize the term 'an intolerance of tolerance' is slightly ambiguous; that's what I get for writing at three in the morning. My thinking was that there appears to be a growing intolerance in the political debate toward the tolerant expression of diverse views and voices, whether left, center or right, which do not follow the (reigning) party ideology. I apologize if my words were (or are) vague.

Knut, thank you for your encouragement and taking the time to respond. I believe that what you wrote mirrors my concerns for the Norwegian people . You clearly underscored a number of the issues that I inferred in my article without my naming them. I hope to share some more thoughts about these in the coming days. I look forward to reading more of your thoughts as well.

Ole David (I'm looking forward to reading your new article 'Hva er norsk kultur'), thank you for your keen insights. As a partial response to your thoughts, I have this to leave you with: that Behring Breivik was not incubated in a vaccuum, but within the context of the societal influences he was born into; he is the pure product of a number of the values which many Norwegians hold dear. Behring Breivik is Norwegian born and bred, though one on steroids (both ideologically and literally). Any inference to this man not being one of us, or any distancing we do from him, alleviates us from the responsibility of examining our own inner fears, dark thoughts and screaming consciences. There is a little piece of Behring Breivik in all of us, if I may be so blunt.

And all of us (whether through the collective process of changing or preserving social norms, or those who specifically had the potential of influencing him at some point in his life) are to some degree responsible for who he is. Behring Breivik of course is solely accountable before God for his deplorable actions. I'm not meaning to dump condemnation on specific individuals, but come on! There had to be someone out there who saw some warning signs of what was going on in Behring Breivik's life but failed to step in or respond. Or maybe someone did step in, but the gentleman refused the help. Whatever the case, this situation should pull us tighter together as a nation in the name of corporate responsibility and personal accountability.

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An intolerance of tolerance

Publisert rundt 9 år siden

Will it be possible to agree with some of Behring Breivik's tennents without fear of being labelled a right-wing extremist, or of being accused of endorsing the abominable methods Behring Breivik resorted to in getting his point across?

I am sensing an ideological hysteria brewing in Norway in the wake of the atrocities committed by Behring Breivik on 07.22.2011, an hysteria which may lead to 'an intolerance of tolerance' if we do not tred very, very carefully as a nation. 

This is what I mean:  will it be possible to agree with some of Behring Breivik's tennents without fear of being labelled a right-wing extremist, or of being accused of endorsing the abominable methods Behring Breivik resorted to in getting his point across? 

I understand that the nation is in a very emotionally vulnerable state at present, allowing for a certain swing toward a collective grief and a collective appraisal of the violation committed against us; this builds a consensus of direction as to where we want to go as a nation as we head into the future.  Our grief momentarily shields us from all other perspectives as we look inward to grapple with our shock.  We must give ourselves time to process, to heal and, with God's help, to forgive.

But sometime in the future our grief will subside; in that moment we will be faced with the same issues that faced us as a nation before 07.22.11.  In that moment we will have the greatest need for balanced inquiry, for forthright honesty, for tolerant exploration and expression of all possible solutions as we look at our nation's challenges from a new though un-asked for perspective.  We will need to bluntly look at the societal influences which created Behring Breivik and his views and to evaluate, oh so carefully, if some of his anger was not justified. 

Jesus, lead us as a nation; heal us, have mercy on us.

 

Thomas Freitag

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