Up here in the northern latitudes, adults start placing trust in their youth from a very young age. Moms place six-month-olds in the arms of their 18-month-old siblings on plastic sleds and pull them around town as a mode of transportation in snowy conditions. Toddlers ascend impressive heights on the playgrounds while their parents nonchalantly look on, seemingly unfazed by the absence of any railings or “just-in-case” handles. First and second graders ride the city bus to school but only if they do not live in walking distance. If they live close enough to walk, which most do, then most walk themselves, by themselves, carrying their backpacks, cross-country skis or ice skates, helmets, and bags with extra clothes. Schoolchildren walk themselves across town to participate in extra-curricular activities and get themselves home in time for dinner. Sixteen-year-olds decide whether they will attend upper secondary school or vocational school setting the path for their future education and work. Teenagers learn about the effects of alcohol on the body in health class and typically steer clear of the hard stuff. Parents, teachers, peers and society cultivate the “society of trust” that permeates daily life.
Up here among thousands upon thousands of lakes (some say 30,000 while others say 100,000… sorry Minnesota), parents are able to place trust in society. They trust that their kids will be safe, unchaperoned, at the park down the street. They can trust that their kids will get a well-balanced, hot, and usually homemade lunch once a day from pre-school right on up through university. They can trust that the costs of their children’s university education is nominal, and most often absolutely free. Surely I am not saying that parents don’t worry and in particular, at the moment, the worries of most parents with whom I speak are centered around Finland’s economic uncertainty and long-term prospects for their offspring. There is, though, a general feeling that everyone is going to come out of this okay.
Up here where reindeer roam, teachers are trusted to do their jobs. Time and again when I talk with teachers I hear about the autonomy they experience and the trust placed in them by their principals, students, and society at large: “Teachers are well-trained and trusted as professionals,” said several. “Teachers do not go through evaluation processes because they are experts in their field,” agreed many others. Additionally, most felt that students and parents have faith in the work they do and that they rarely feel like scapegoats for the poor performance of students or behavioral concerns that arise. Some lamented the fact that in the last few years parents seem “more worried about the future” and that this increased worry also coincides with more online ways to monitor student progress (thanks for nothing WILMA!).
Up here, in the land of vegetable sandwiches for breakfast and pastry in the afternoon, the trust is palpable. I am sure it is not perfect and I am sure there are things Finns do not like about aspects of society but, as an outsider peering in, it just feels different. It is nice to see little kids taking care of business on their own. It is nice to watch all of the students (and I mean all of them) line up for school lunch, eat it, and then clean up their own mess every time, no questions asked. “We are a rule-following society,” many have told me, “even if we don’t like a rule we still follow it.” It is nice to hear that the vast majority of teachers feel trusted to do their jobs and do them well. It is nice to know that if you lose something downtown odds are great that some Finn will turn it into the police station and it will makes its way back to you. It is nice to see that, in general, people do not trash public restrooms and they are kept quite clean, likely thanks to the sprayer and brush in each personal stall (almost everywhere) basically saying “Hey dude, if you make a huge mess, clean it up!” It is nice to be part of a society, even temporarily, in which trust breeds more trust.