I have to pay tribute to Kelsey L.O. and her article “One Word Spared Norway From COVID-19 Disaster.” The Norwegian word is dugnad and it’s a concept the insightful writer describes as “untranslatable but plenty explainable.”
Dugnad (pronounced doog-nahd); a Norwegian cultural tradition where community members work together towards a common goal, for the greater good for all.
Norway, along with all of Scandinavia, have a long history of residents working together to achieve the public good. With their harsh, dark and long winters, cooperation was a matter of survival. Today, their health care systems are universal, along with most of what we might call the services for surviving and thriving. The pandemic and economic disruption is impacting all of Scandinavia to varying degrees, yet Scandinavias don’t worry about ending up living on the street or going bankrupt with hospital bills. This is due, in many ways, to dugnad. The Norwegians, Swedes, Danes and Finns see themselves as connected and protected by a unique collective system call government. There, as opposed to here, the job of government is to protect and empower people.
In my work to address childhood trauma and social adversity I talk with elected officials on the state, county and city levels. All agree that our children and parents should have access to health care, food, stable housing and transport to vital services. It’s just that, according to most leaders, it’s not the job of government to make that happen. In the United States, local government does other things. What these things are varies from city to city.
This brings me to the one word. The word we need now more than ever to ensure that our children, families, students, workers, elders—all of us—can make it through the pandemic and economic downturn.
One definition found on the web might look something like this:
Community: a social group whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and have common social, economic, and political interests.
It’s here I borrow from the definition of dugnad to enhance the definition.
Community: a social group whose members reside in a specific locality, share government, and work together towards a common goal, for the greater good for all.
Unlike the Norwegians, most cities across the nation don’t have a cultural tradition where community members work together towards a common goal and greater good. Instead we have a long history of disparities, division, distrust, denial, finger-pointing and trauma.
The pandemic has provided us, collectively, with a shock to the system. Things now move in slow motion as we wait for life to get back to a normal that doesn’t exist anymore. This “all stop” has given us an opportunity to pause, reflect and redefine who we are as individuals and as a nation. We can embrace community to forge a way forward that brings everyone along.
To survive in the harshest of conditions, the Norwegians invented dugnad. In the United States, as crises collide, we can invent a new way of living, caring and governing. We can commit to community.
*The future is what we make it. Join the evolution.
Please excuse any typos as I construct an article at 3am on only one cup of Joe. These stories are mine and mine alone. I do not represent any organization here. If one of my illustrations looks like a real human or three-headed hydra, that’s total coincidence. Words and images ©Dominic Cappello but share with everyone you know. Questions? The Plan Forward awaits you here: www.tenvitalservices.org