Hidden Europe II - Tapon
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Monday, 02 March 2009 09:13

Part 2 of Excerpts from the upcoming book:
The Hidden Europe:What Eastern Europeans Can Teach Us
by Francis Tapon, author of "HikeYour Own Hike"

Tapon head thumbnailFrancis Tapon is a Triple Crowner. He has hiked the Appalachian Trail, Pacfic Crest Trail, and Continental Divide Trail. He hiked the last one, the CDT, twice in the same year.

If the United Nations had a survey, I’m sure that Finland would be voted as “The Country Least Likely to Start World War III.” They are a peaceful people. Almost... too peaceful.

Nobody hates the Finns. Why would you? They don’t bother anyone. However, that doesn’t stop some jerks going over to Finland to beat up on them anyway. First, the imperialist Swedes came in the twelfth century. The Swedes conquered the Finns and ruled them for 700 years. During the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Swedish nobles ruled Finland’s fiefdoms and taxed the hell out of the locals. Swedish merchants, fishermen, and farmers settled en masse. The Swedes dominated the Finns so tightly that it wasn’t until 1863 when the poor Finns finally convinced the Russians (who were ruling them at the time) to let Finnish have equal status as Swedish. Hold on. Notice that the Finns didn’t request to have their language be more important than Swedish, just equal. And it took over 700 years to reach that milestone.

The Finnish Culture.

So why aren’t the Finns spanking the Swedes who make them learn Swedish and write street signs in Swedish? Why aren’t Finns blowing themselves up in the middle of Swedish neighborhoods? The answer is obvious to me: the Finns are an incredibly peaceful and mellow people. Their culture discourages violence and emotional outbursts (unless you’re drunk, which happens every weekend).

On the other hand, they’re not cowards or wimps. After all, they’ve defended themselves against the Russians many times and live in one of the coldest regions of the planet. However, when it comes to most disputes with the Swedes, they are like the husband who would rather not argue with his nagging wife. “Yes, dear,” the Finns say to the pesky Swedes. In the tranquil minds of the Finns, it’s just not worth getting upset about minor issues that hardly matter.

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After visiting Lapland (highly recommended), I returned to Helsinki and visited a medieval town (Porvoo), the former capital of Finland (Turko), and the southernmost point of Finland (Hanko). They’re all fascinating places to check out. Finland’s complex history, filled with Russian and Swedish occupation, gives visitors a taste of Finland’s dynamic past. Finland is a great, wonderful country, filled with honest, helpful, and good-hearted people. I truly enjoyed myself during my two weeks there. Then again, most Finns told me that if I came in the winter time I might have a different impression.

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What Finland Can Teach Us

  • Ride a bike. Lobby your local government for bike lanes and support a private company that creates a Finnish-like rent-a-bike program. Helsinki’s weather is rougher than most of America’s, yet the Finns bike everywhere. Quit making excuses. When I worked for Microsoft in rainy Seattle, I didn’t have a car and biked everywhere. Wear a rain jacket, rain pants, a cap, and laugh in the rain! I carry a backpack full of groceries and bike all over San Francisco, which has some fearsome hills. You’ll lose weight and you’ll never fight for a parking spot.

  • Be quick to trust people. Don’t worry about giving strangers a ride, inviting them to your house, or loaning them something you value. When you become more trusting, others will open up and trust you more. You create a virtuous cycle: mutual generosity and happiness soars. Being cynical and suspicious leads to mutual caution and misery. Obviously, women should be a bit more cautious than men, but life is boring if you selfishly shut yourself off from the world. Learn from the Finns and assume that most people are good and honest.

  • Learn patience by having  broad perspective. Finns keep events and their lives in a wide perspective so that few things get to them. Whenever you find yourself losing patience, take steps back and examine the situation from a broader time line. Why get irritated when someone calls you Liz instead of Elizabeth? Why get angry if traffic is worse than you expected? Why fight when someone offends you? Why get offended in the first place? Finns aren’t saints, but they’re amazingly calm when most people boil and raise their voices.

  • Improve our schools by following the Finnish example. The Finns has mastered the art of creating responsible kids and well-trained teachers. Instead of blindly dumping more money into our schools, let’s pull out some free lessons from the Finnish school playbook. In particular, empowering teachers to become entrepreneurs.

water view

 

Last Updated on Monday, 16 August 2010 11:07
 
 
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