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Feb 11

Breaking free from the Janteloven Stronghold

Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black president described what could be the “spirit of false humility” that permeates Hawaiian culture when he wrote:

<p“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

What is the “Janteloven Stronghold”?

The “Janteloven Stronghold” is a cultural mind set that underlies how some of us perceive ourselves and others. This perception expresses itself in many ways but basically is characterized by mediocrity, false humility and passivity, capping God given potential. This “laid-back” kind of spirit is not unique to the State of Hawaii as it is also prevalent in other nations such as Australia, Canada, Chile, Denmark, England, Japan, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden.

When was the “Janteloven Stronghold” first identified?

The term “Janteloven Stronghold” was coined in 1933 when a Danish man named Aksel Sandemose moved to Norway and came across attitudes of negativism and depression. While living in Norway Sandemose wrote a novel about a mythical town called “Jante”, based on his hometown Nkyobing Mors. His book called “The Escape from Jante” describes small town thinking and the unspoken rules of such communities in general.

In his book Sandemose identifies and records ten cultural mindsets or beliefs that he observed and experienced in Norwegian culture. It is probable that he chose these “ten” beliefs to draw a parallel between Scandinavian law and the Ten Commandments. The Norwegian name for the Ten Commandments is “Moseloven” or the code of Moses. Hence the phrase “Janteloven” which literally means “The Law of Jante” was coined to describe cultural mind sets that Sandemose could see were holding back the people of Norway from reaching their potential.

Here is the Law of Jante which Sandemose wrote. Note the similarities between these cultural rules and the “the spirit of false humility” that is prevalent in the Hawaiian Islands:

1. Do not think you are anything special.
2. Do not think you are as the same standing as we are.
3. Do not think you are smarter or wiser than we are.
4. Do not think you are better than we are.
5. Do not think you know more than we do.
6. Do not think you are more important that we are.
7. Do not think you are good at anything.
8. Do not laugh as us.
9. Do not think anyone cares about you.
10. Do not think you can teach us anything.

The basic translation of these ten rules is clear: You aren’t worth a thing! Just who do you think you are? 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 scope of the “spirit of false humility” or “Janteloven Stronghold” is not confined to Scandinavia or here in the Hawaiian Islands. It is safe to say that we may have inherited these cultural mind sets from New Zealand, Australia or Japan where they also exist. In Australia and New Zealand the “Janteloven Stronghold” is referred to as the “Tall Poppy Syndrome”. This phrase is used to describe what is seen as a leveling social attitude. Some one is said to be suffering from “Tall Poppy Syndrome” when his or her assumption of a higher economic, social or political position attracts criticism, being perceived as presumptuous, attention seeking or without merit.”

In Hawaii we refer to the people that we “perceive” are “Tall Poppies” as “High Makamaka”. In Hawaii you won’t find many people bragging about their accomplishments. In the islands it is not about what you have done as an individual that it is important, but what you have done for your family and community and what kind of person you are. To speak of your accomplishments then, is to be “High Makamaka”. And to be such invites mischievous spirits that bring bad luck.

To reiterate, whether the “spirit of false humility”, the “Janteloven Spirit”, or the “Tall Poppy Syndrome”, there are cultural strongholds in every society that influence behavior. In these places it is frowned upon to appear to elevate oneself or claim to be better or smarter than others.

But what about Asians?

The Japanese have a proverb that says, “Deru kugi wa utareru” which translates, “The nail that sticks out gets hammered down.” This means that a nonconformist will be pounded down and encouraged “not to make waves”. In Hawaii, we refer to “The Samoan Crab Theory” (reference to one crab pulling another crab back into a bucket as it almost crawls up and out of the bucket) which refers to those who pull others down who are beginning to become successful.

Upon visiting a good friend at the Hawaii State judiciary I found him reading a magazine with his feet up on his desk. When I asked him if he was afraid of being reprimanded for “slacking” on the job he replied that his “slacking” was expected. When I questioned him further about this he explained that if he strived for excellence or did a better job than his peers he would be looked down on and even warned for making others “look bad”.

When looking back to high school I experienced the “spirit of false humility” or “Janteloven Stronghold” on my first day of school. Having been raised by parents from the East Coast I was not shy about sharing what I thought. So when asked if anyone would like to share their thoughts, by my teacher, I volunteered. After being affirmed for a good answer I was met with the local “stink eye” by those around me for being a showoff. Quickly I learned that I needed to conform to my peers or risk not being accepted.

In her article “Hawaii’s Oppression by Mediocrity” Midweek columnist Susan Page mentions an experience she had in 1968 while teaching local teenage girls self improvement. She writes:

“I was struck by how they (the girls) resisted shining, how they worked at ‘playing small’. One girl always changed from rather grubby attire into her ‘class’ clothes once she got there. Then after class she’d switch again, pulling her hair back in a tight ponytail and taking off any remnants of makeup before joining her friends.

‘Shame’, she said, when I asked her why she didn’t want to show off her new improved look to her friends and family!

This was my first experience with how being ‘fabulous’ or even merely above average, was considered a “bad thing.”

In Hawaii it is unfortunate that our keiki (children) feel “shame” for getting good grades, raising their hands to volunteer an answer or wearing nice clothes. Our youth need to be taught that doing well is not a “shameful” thing because God wants everyone to succeed! Because of the “Janteloven Stronghold” however, our youth are capped and are not reaching their God given potential. Sadly, a decision not to rise above others is made not by the Spirit of God but by spiritual influences not of God.

These negative influences include but are not limited to:

1. A spirit of false humility that downplays compliments and affirmation minimizing true accomplishment.
2. A passive spirit that influences locals to “hold back” instead of “step out”.
3. A lethargic spirit which “cruises” instead of “perseveres”.
4. A religious spirit that tries to “conform” others to unspoken rules or laws with the threat of rejection and non acceptance.
5. A spirit of conformity which discourages creativity, diversity and achievement perpetuating instead “mediocrity”.
6. A blocking or rebellious spirit that “resists” impassioned, visionary leadership.
7. A spirit of apathy that “opposes” helping others in need.
8. A legalistic spirit that “opposes” grace.
9. A critical or judgmental spirit that monitors others actions breeding “The Fear of Man.”
10. A capped spirit that “contains” freedom of expression in dance, song, worship and tells people that they can’t become anyone.
11. An anti-prophetic spirit that “resists” those who speak destiny and purpose over people’s lives.
12. The spirit of envy and jealousy toward those who break out of the pack.

How do I break free from the “spirit of false humility”or the “Janteloven Stronghold”?

1. Recognition. In order to overcome the “Janteloven Stronghold” you must first see that you have been operating under its influence. Once you have come to this realization you have taken the first step to freedom.
2. Confession. To confess something means to agree with God that you have been living and relating in a manner that does not line up with His will for your life.
3. Renunciation. To renounce something is to “break legal ties” with the very thing that has had a grip upon your life. This literally means taking a “strong hold” over the stronghold that has been negatively influencing you. This is accomplished by “renouncing” the lies of the “Janteloven Stronghold” or “spirit of false humility” that have negatively influenced you and your family and your generational line.
4. Forgiveness. To forgive others is to release them from the harm they have caused you. To forgive someone is to let go of your hurt, anger and disappointment towards them. Forgiveness also means asking God to forgive you for hurting Him and yourself.
5. Truth. To break free completely from a stronghold requires more than confession, renunciation and forgiveness. It requires incorporating a “new normal” into your thoughts and actions. This means making the choice to live by truths that acknowledge that you are special and have the potential to accomplish God’s plan and purpose for your life.

Breaking free from the “Janteloven stronghold” or “spirit of false humility” (a prayer)

Thank you Lord that You have revealed to me that I have lived much of my life under the influence of the “Janteloven Stronghold”.

Because of this revelation I agree with You Lord that I need to be freed from its negative influences. I therefore confess to You that I am in need of deliverance from this stronghold. Further Lord I acknowledge and renounce the “Janteloven Stronghold” and its many forms including the spirit of false humility; passivity; lethargy; religiosity; conformity; mediocrity; rebellion; apathy; legalism; judgmentalism; envy and jealousy. Today I declare that these ungodly influences will no longer hinder me from obeying Your call for me to rise up, get equipped and become all that you want me to be!

To be more specific Lord I renounce each of the ten laws of the “Janteloven Stronghold” revealed to me as the “spirit of false humility”:

1. I renounce, break, shatter and destroy the mind set that I am not anything special! The truth is I am a person of great worth because I am created in the image of God and because Jesus chose to go to the cross on my behalf!
2. I renounce, break, shatter and destroy the mind set that I do not have the same standing as others. The truth is I have been created equal by God with all men and because Jesus destroyed the dividing wall between all ethnic groups, Jews and Gentiles, when He died on the cross!
3. I renounce, break, shatter and destroy the mind set that others are smarter or wiser than I am. The truth is I have the wisdom of the Holy Spirit living within me and am able to access it by simply asking for it.
4. I renounce, break, shatter and destroy the mind set that I am not better than others. The truth is God has a plan and purpose for my life and has set me up to be a winner!
5. I renounce, break, shatter and destroy the mind set that others know more than I do. The truth is, because of the Spirit’s indwelling presence in my soul I am full of knowledge!
6. I renounce, break, shatter and destroy the mind set that others are more important than I am. The truth is I am equally as important with all men or Jesus would not have laid down His life for me. God therefore honors me as much as anyone on earth!
7. I renounce, break, shatter and destroy the mind set that I am not good at anything. I break the belief that I am a “jack of all trades but a master of none” and reject the lie that “noble deeds are done in silence”. The truth is the Spirit of God has distributed to me unique gifts and talents for the blessing and benefit of others and the advancement of His Kingdom!
8. I renounce, break, shatter and destroy the mind set that no one can laugh at me. The truth is that God the Father loves me and fully embraces me as His son or daughter. Because I am accepted as I am by God what others think or say about me need not control me (this includes people laughing at me)!
9. I renounce, break, shatter and destroy the mind set that no one cares about me. The truth is that God the Father cares about me deeply as do His family, my brothers and sisters in Christ who are full of the Holy Spirit do as well!
10. I renounce, break, shatter and destroy the mind set that no one can teach me anything. The truth is that I have a teachable spirit and am open to learn from whomever God places in my life!

Going Deeper (more prayer)

I further renounce the “Janteloven Stronghold’s” impact upon my family and my entire generational line. I forgive those in my family who consciously or unconsciously passed down to me this stronghold. And where I have been wounded I extend forgiveness to my parents, my grandparents, their ancestors, my friends and anyone else who pressured me not to rise up to my full potential for fear of making others feel bad or insecure.

I also recognize that I need to forgive my family line for passing down to me cultural strongholds that have caused me to think less of myself and to envy and even despise Caucasians. I forgive my family Lord and ask You to forgive us for putting ourselves down and believing the lie that we aren’t as smart, can’t speak or dress as well and are not of the same standing as our Caucasian brothers.

I forgive my Caucasian brothers Lord who treated us unfairly, unjustly and looked down upon us as workers of the plantation fields (system) in centuries past. I thank you Lord for my Caucasian bothers and ask You to bless them in every way!

Finally Lord, I symbolically remove the lid or cap over my life and destroy it in Jesus’ name! Uncap me Lord, that from this day forward I may begin the process of discovering and reaching my God given potential as You fill me with Your Spirit and plans for my future. In the meantime Lord, I declare that the power of the “Janteloven Stronghold” is broken off of my life and that I will walk out each day a “new normal” resisting old thoughts and behaviors. Amen.