Reflecting on Nordic Values during a Pandemic

In May 2020 we asked a group of alumni, current students and others in the Luther community these questions:  What do you think are the most important Nordic values and social norms?  Do you see them being used to address the coronavirus crisis?  How and where?

We appreciate their reflections and hope they are meaningful to you as well.

Tim Baardseth '00

Timothy Baardseth '00    Several Nordic values and norms come to mind as important during the challenging times we find ourselves in. Yet the Janteloven - the cultural code of humility and selflessness - is the one Nordic value and norm that I am witnessing around us as vital in addressing the coronavirus crisis. As a clinical psychologist and educator, I am inspired by colleagues and staff at my hospital and graduate school as they embrace the egalitarian value that no person is either better or worse than anyone else. Their willingness to place the needs of their patients and students in front of their own is awe-inspiring. I believe that the egalitarian spirit of the Janteloven will ultimately be an underlying societal factor that helps us to overcome these tumultuous times. Although challenges and disappointments remain, it is enlightening to see the the Janteloven's spirit emerge in both subtle and prominent ways in our societal fabric. But sometimes we just need to look more closely for it than other times.

Marissa Carius '18

Marissa Carius '18   I appreciate how much nature is valued in the Nordic countries. Something as simple as going for walks around the neighborhood, while maybe not as exciting as hiking the Norwegian fjords, definitely helps me cope with social distancing. We can all go outside and get some fresh air, enjoy the sunshine, and appreciate the fact that being outdoors has not been “cancelled.” I think something just as valued as nature is the koselig/ hygge or “cozy” way of life. The focus on contentment and well-being in your current situation can be a way out of the boredom, repetitiveness and mundane we are all experiencing on some level. Enjoying the small things, like a warm cup of coffee, lighting candles, reading a good book, etc. captures that feeling of warmth and comfort. If we have to stay home 24/7 these days, I’m taking a page out of the Koselig handbook!       

Rick and Judy Torgerson

Richard Torgerson, President Emeritus, Luther College                

We find ourselves in unprecedented times. Nothing in my 14 years as president came close to the challenges (disruption) now faced by Luther’s leadership team. The Nordic values of community, engagement, and practicality are particularly poignant today and important to me.


Tokstad pine

Colin Weber '20   One of the most important Nordic values in my life is spending purposeful, immersive time outdoors. To me, the outdoors are the intersection of physical activity, mental rejuvenation, emotional healing, and all other forms of respite from the worries of the current pandemic. In states across the country, this value is definitely being used to address the crisis. In Minnesota, for example, state parks, public lands, and lakes have never been closed because our government recognizes the importance of the outdoors as a space of intersectional healing.   

One thing that has prepared me for this unprecedented time was the pilgrimage I took through Norway last summer with a fellowship from Luther's Center for Ethics and Public Engagement. The key was that I did the pilgrimage entirely alone, and there were several days during it where I said fewer than 30 words aloud. This previous experience of social isolation gave me the faith that I could not just withstand a similar experience again, but that I could live through it and appreciate it for what it's worth. This picture is of the Tokstad pine, a tree that is 500 years old. I visited it alone, on a day where I opened my mouth only a handful of times. It has survived more pandemics of humans (and pine trees) than just about any other living thing, and it has yet to open its mouth. I think it's something we can all take inspiration from.

Ingrid Urberg '84

Ingrid Urberg '84    I think a focus on equality, including gender equality, is one of the most important Nordic values. This includes the recognition that the contributions of all members of society across a myriad of job sectors are necessary for a functioning and healthy community. This focus on equality and the practice of social solidarity has resulted in a robust and valued universal health care system which is serving the Nordic region well during the Covid-19 pandemic. The practice of evidence-based decision- and policy-making is something else that is pervasive in the Nordic region, and is, in my opinion, a practice for all governments to embrace in responding to the current crisis. I think it is important to note that the Nordic region does not have a monopoly on these values, and many of us will see evidence of solidarity and the valuing of the contributions of others in our communities. I live in Canada, and I deeply appreciate the way in which my provincial and the Canadian federal government are relying on experts when making decisions. We also hear the message “we are all in this together” on a daily basis from our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, whose calmness and empathy are much appreciated. This is a reminder that we are all part of the global community, and learning from and listening to others can help us move forward. (Professor Urberg teaches Scandinavian Studies at the University of Alberta). 

Alexis Hove '18

Alexis Hove '18   I believe the concept of hygge is very prevalent during this time. It's not something that I put too much thought into before, but now that we are confined to our own spaces we are urged to consider the importance. Your mom telling you to clean your room when you were younger makes a lot more sense when you reach adulthood. Physical peace translates to emotional health and well-being. If you create a cozy living environment, it clears your mind leaving a lot more room for positive thoughts.   




Pat (McCullough) Edwards '63

Patricia (McCullough) Edwards '63   These are testing times – faith and family, friends and community -  as we adapt to the unprecedented realities of pandemic, of coronavirus. For me, Nordic values and the Luther College experience are tools for helping pass the tests. At Luther, we learned the value of community, and the importance of being in service to community, in service to others. Like the Norse of old, we integrate the values of mutual respect and mutual trust. Self-reliance and interdependence find their balance. The notion of order and discipline makes sense, as does "For the good of all." Reaching out to others in need becomes a natural response. Staying connected is essential. Offering calm and safe harbor in life's storms becomes a welcomed skill. 

Becca Sandness '19

Becca Sandness '19   I think one of the more important Nordic values is trust. People trust each other, their government, healthcare and education systems and more. Providing equal access to such systems reflects that the government cares about the livelihood of its people. I remember when I was in Oslo for the first time and took the city bus. I wondered why some people weren't scanning their passes and instead were simply getting on. Maren told me it's because they have community trust. Trust in each other to do the right thing. I was shocked seeing as this would most likely not work in the U.S. During this time with COVID-19, Sweden has demonstrated this value by not shutting down their borders or many restaurants/shops. They have trust in each other to do what is best for themselves and their own health. 


Peder Smith '20  
Peder Smith '20There are two Nordic values that come to mind. The first is the Nordic relationship with the outdoors and the need to use it for recreation. This is a healthy lifestyle to live during normal times, but is even more important now during the coronavirus crisis! In a strange way, our current situation has forced people to spend more time outside to get out of their living space, and I'm sure it has been a healthy change for a majority of people. The second Nordic value that comes to mind relates to the concept of hygge or koselig. Even though many people are probably getting sick of their living spaces, this situation has allowed families to spend more time together at home. At least in my case, it has cultivated a sense of coziness and contentedness (mixed in with occasional spells of restlessness, of course).


Jacey Eckholm '22

Jacey Eckholm '22    I think the most important Nordic social values have to do with relationships and transparency. These values help build trust and hold people accountable for their own actions or behaviors, which in turn can keep the communities they are living in safer. In our current time of crisis, we can see these values being used due to the need for social distancing as well as needing to know all the information that will help us to make educated life choices that affect both ours and other people's lives.


Andrew Heine

Andrew Heine   I believe that the Scandinavian countries are set up in a way that will let people stay home and not have the government absolutely crushed from the coronavirus.  People have very good healthcare and are able to depend on the help from the government to pay bills so they can stay home and be in quarantine. They don't call themselves a very socialist country but they are. They have a complex work system created for times like this. Another social norm is being outdoors and having a natural quarantine. Norway is all about being outdoors.(Andrew is a Decorah High School student who studied Norwegian at Luther).

Debbie Ringdahl '77
  Debbie Ringdahl '77The Nordic value I believe our world needs now more than ever is ‘health, beauty, and strength in simplicity’. This shows up in policies that provide health care, education, and recreation for all citizens. This shows up in Norwegian design, landscape, lifestyle, and art. We need to be reminded that living a more simple life not only spares resources but can also sharpen our focus on what matters most. I’m hopeful that the pandemic will teach us what we ‘do and don’t need’ rather than what we ‘do and don’t have’.  (Dr. Ringdahl is a clinical associate professor of nursing at the Univ. of Minnesota).

Nathaniel Koch '17   
KochI think one Nordic value that has become more prominent during this time of social distancing and quarantine has been the idea and practice of friluftsliv. I myself have been spending more time outdoors and have noticed that parks and walkways are busier now than ever. I think in America we have this idea that "only fit people run" or "I don't have the right outfit for that activity" but really it's about just getting outside for a few minutes each day and just enjoying a walk either by yourself or with a friend. People have become more conscious about how getting outside makes them feel better and I think that's great.  

Kirsten Heine '92

Kirsten Heine '92   Daily we are confronted with unsettling images highlighting the inequities of the COVID pandemic. Those who do not have access to quality preventative healthcare and those with great economic hardships are suffering at a higher rate. This “gap” does not seem as prevalent in Norway. So for me, one of the most important Norwegian tenets that is even more apparent during this outbreak is that each citizen has access to quality healthcare, and not simply in times of crisis. This is of course more than a healthcare conversation.  It prompts us all to reflect upon much deeper economic, social, spiritual, and philosophical questions.  And this is where a school like Luther College, and in particular the Nordic Studies Department, can shine and help to lead the way to new ways of imagining what our world can and should be going forward.

See also reflections about Denmark by Kathi Caldwell '79; a view from Norway by Arthur Melhoos '69; and an essay on Nordic values in hard times by emeritus professor of history John Christianson.