The slogan of Finland´s 100th birthday is Together. Let´s make it a year of dialogue – and disagreement.
A while back I attended a planning session with external partners. We were joking around and the discussion was flowing. I felt that we were creating something new.
A member of the group leaned back and said:“Yeah, it kind of feels that nowadays every freaking group and TV programme has to have a token homo so that it is politically correct.” And he laughed.
I am not a person in a vulnerable position. I am not a helpless victim. I had resources to bring into the process. And I am gay, in his terms a homo. With that comment, this person made an assumption that They – the homos – were not taking part. He felt sure enough that the homos were part of Them, not part of Us. He felt that by excluding another group, he consolidated our group.
An hour later I had dozens of alternatives for what I should have said. But in that moment, I could not think of one. No one else opened their mouth either.
This is not uncommon. Everyone belonging to a visible or invisible minority constantly ends up in situations where it is consciously or unconsciously indicated to you that you are not part of Us. Just the other day I listened to a couple of Helsinki-born teenagers discussing how in the media Muslims and Finns seemed to be seen as separate groups.
Finland gained its independence in 1917. So we have a centennial celebration coming up in 2017. The Government has decided that the theme of the year is Together. This is how it is described on the official website:
The theme of Finland’s centenary celebration year is ‘Together’. With the help of a host of participants, we will draw up a lively programme covering the whole of 2017. The centenary celebration is open to Finns and friends of Finland. This is an opportunity to get involved and give something back to your own community, Finland.
It is very tempting in a celebratory year to simplify the story of Finland. To fall back on dichotomies of Finland being or not being something. The problem in these stories is that they do exactly what this person did to me in that meeting: they tell some people that they are not part of Us. That their story or their identity does not fit in.
“True modernism is freedom of mind, not slavery of taste. It is independence of thought and action, not tutelage under European schoolmasters.”
Let´s make a truly modernist centennial. My wish for Finland is that we dare to shed light on the contradictory. That we dare to show that the unifying factor is our commitment to democracy as practice, not obedience or uniformity. It means acknowledging views, which might be a lot more conservative or liberal that we are used to. It requires a discussion culture, which stresses the importance of understanding and respect. This is not equal to happy-go-lucky. To truly recognise difference is incredibly emotional and at times extremely uncomfortable. To succeed, a country of disagreement needs a whole lot of empathy to hold it all together. Empathy means the ability to understand that things can be seen from various perspectives, it means being able to walk in other people´s shoes. Empathy is not an inborn characteristic, it is something we develop only by practicing. And let´s face it, this is something where Finland needs improving.
Dear Finland, let´s make the year to be about building a future rather than slimming down history to easily digestible soundbites and souvenirs. Homogeneity of histories and hopes cannot be the building principles of the next 100 years. As Tagore writes in Nationalism, all nations are becoming Indias. All nations are becoming nations mixing races and beliefs.
Finland´s success has been built on the shoulders of homogeneity. We need to radically renew the idea of a Nordic welfare state. Innovations require us to hear disruptive ideas. I would like to see a Finland that dares to trust the process of democracy.
What this could be:
- Let´s form a counter-parliament for that year with randomly selected 200 citizens.
- Let´s start an international leadership and argumentation programme mixing Finnish and foreign young people. Let´s make the next adult generation the most empathetic generation of Finland´s history.
- Rather than trying to come up with the best solutions, let´s make our problems public and organise a global challenge competition.
- Let´s organise something like the Festival for Dangerous Ideas.
- Let´s do something like Year Here for fighting inequality. University of Helsinki´s Helsinki Challenge is a good starting point for this.