Writings

Vänliga vanliga veckan


Today starts 'The friendly week'. If you've never heard of it it's probably because you don't live in Sweden which is the only country I know where it exists and is, well maybe not exactly celebrated, but at least given a moderate amount of media coverage.
It was dreamt up by an author and publisher called Harry Lindqvist who in 1946 heard that a traffic counter during his work had observed that amongst the 8596 passengers he had seen, there were only 12 people smiling, 15 that looked content, whereas the rest looked like they were on their way to a funeral. So Harry coined and institutionalised 'The friendly week' in Sweden, as a time to practice being kind to eachother and to remind us all that we actually feel a little better when we open to, and help eachother. His wish was that it would be 'The 7 days of friendliness that becomes more'. A suggestion that seems appropriate these days when there is very little space given to such selfless action.

The reason I think we don't exercise our friendly muscles more often, is probably because of our stressful lives and our growing suspicion of people being 'bad'. I also attribute it to our insecurity in not knowing how our friendliness will be recieved, that if we smile to a stranger we'll be met only with suspicion. It seems easier and safer to just look at our phones instead of risking feeling embarrased by the lack of a friendly response. I have to confess that I am a little like that. I'd rather stay safe in my own little universe than to risk a smile or a friendly gesture in case I will be met by a blank stare, or even worse, a hostile look in return. I trace that back to my insecurity, and try to work on it constantly, but I don't think I am alone in feeling this.
Our lack of everyday friendliness towards our fellow humans could simply be symptom of our sense of separation, that uncertainty that makes us feel that there is an us and them, and that we're inherently different from eachother. It seems we need to know that when we smile to someone we get one back, if not we tend to feel foolish as if we had done wrong somehow. And when we're not being given what we think to be an appropriate response to our friendly outreach, we feel disappointed, disillusioned and depressed and think to hell with it, why even bother, humanity is going down the drain anyways, everyone is always only thinking of themselves so why should I...well, you know the song.

If we visit the website for 'The friendly week', we (Swedes) are given an intelligent suggestion. The Swedish alphabet has these three extra letters, Å, Ä, Ö which are not read by the international cyber language, so the site for 'Vänliga veckan-The Friendly week, comes up as 'Vanliga veckan', which means 'The ordinary week'. A accidental but very useful hint. Why not make the effort to be friendly, ordinary. Why not move through our insecurity and need for reciprocation, and extend that smile or give that helping hand to a friend or stranger as often as we can, make it part of our ordinary. And maybe in doing so, we'll discover that by making vänligt-vanligt, friendly-ordinary, our lives can become truly extraordinary. Because in my humble opinion, there is no other currency that is as instantly gratifying and pays foward as greatly as kindness. Try it and see how it feels, I think you'll discover that the actual feeling of being friendly is it's own reward, and that what you extend always comes back to you, even if it's not in that precise moment. Or as my favourtie Icelander Björk so beautifully puts it:

"You'll be given love
You have to trust it
Maybe not from the sources
You have poured yours
Maybe not from the directions
You are staring at
Twist your head around
It's all around you"

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