A More Civil Society

24 10 2013

“We don’t see it as socialism.  We just see it as being civil to one another!”

That’s how the young Danish woman responded to the label that the reporter had given to the vast array of social programs that exist in what has been proclaimed the “Happiest Nation.”  I heard it several years ago and have not forgotten it; and not JUST because my wife happens to be a Dane.  I have not forgotten the woman’s words because I see so much incivility in America!  The gun violence on our streets, the bullying in our schools, the stubborn extremism in our politics — I am reminded every day of how uncivil we in the “Most Powerful Nation” tend to be towards one another.  And I can’t help but wonder why.

Meredith Melnick recently reported in a piece for “The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money and Power” that one of the reason countries rank high on the ‘happiness scale’ has a great deal to do with the way they care for one another.  “Danes feel a responsibility for one another,” she writes.  “(They) don’t prioritize social security and safety simply so they can receive benefits; there’s a real sense of collective responsibility and belonging.”  As a result, Danes support parents, with the average parental leave at 52 weeks; in contrast to America’s 10.3 weeks, which is only for mothers.  Because health care is seen as a basic human right, Danes see their physician an average of 7 times per year, and preventive care is provided at the lowest and thus least expensive level of support.   Further, in spite of the harshness of the weather, Danes bike and exercise more than most, which leads not only to a healthier and more fit populous, but a cleaner environment for all.  And the battle for gender equality was fought and won long ago in Denmark, creating a society where women contribute as much as 38% of the income in Danish households.  Further, because Danish woman were given the vote before women in most other nations, there are high numbers of female political representatives and the current Prime Minister is a woman — Helle Thorning-Schmidt.  Danes are also involved in the political process, with 88% of the country having voted in the last election. 

Yes, Danes care for one another.  And as a result, they are happier.  Who would have thought that their might actually be some objective evidence that living out the great commandment DOES in fact lead to happiness and contentment in this life! 

Jesus told us to love our neighbor as ourselves; and the message of the Hebrew Scriptures is that indeed we ARE the keepers of our sisters and brothers.  Genesis makes it clear that it is not good for us to be alone.  We need one another, for it DOES take a village to raise a child . . . and to nurture an adolescent, support an adult, and care for the aged.  If Christianity and all the major religions of the world are about anything, they are about community.  And it all begins with seeing the spark of the Divine in everyone.  It begins when we recognize that we’re all in this together, and none of us can really succeed, unless everyone succeeds. 

Danes understand this.  And it’s not about socialism; it’s about learning to be civil towards one another.  And such living can and does lead to happiness.   Unfortunately, too many in this country that I call home continue to be more interested in power than happiness.  And until that changes, incivility will reign on our streets and in the halls of Congress, and we will be a nation that is more powerful, than happy. 

The Danes?  They’ll be riding their bikes, with their families, to the local bakery, enjoying a good coffee and a delicious pastry. 

Are they powerful?  Not really.  But boy are they happy!