When we think of communities, what do we think of?
Villages – for one. The modern community however, is much more different, usually organized along lines of ethnicity, religion, or gender identity, and can be found in concentrated in physical locations, as well as places like the internet.
Today however, we examine the classic model of a group of people living together in a certain geographical location, and how shared experiences and spaces bind them together as a community as part of a larger society.
Ah, Scandinavia. Finland, Norway, Denmark and Sweden.
What delightful places – we see the forests, the mountains and majestic fjords and ask ourselves, what makes the Nordic countries such a great place to live? Is it their welfare system? The high taxes and affordable education? Or their excellent healthcare?
First – to understand a why a country does so well, we must understand it’s people.
Their communities, are unlike most modern cities in respect to their size and traditions – laws about public spaces and resources are very different, as are attitudes.
Would you leave your baby unattended outside of a cafe in public while you get yourself some coffee? Perhaps not. But Nordic parents do, and they leave them coddled up in blankets.
The main reason for that is that they believe that the winter air (they do this in winter by the way) will make their babies healthier as the air is fresher, crisp, and will boost their immune systems. Maybe it’s also why the Nordic countries are so resistant to cold too.
But if you examine this behaviour closer – wouldn’t you need to trust your fellow countryman to do the right thing, and have your interests at heart too? Children are an important part of your life, and not just a minor one.
Another example of trust in their communities would be the unique attitude and concept enshrined in their law. Conceptualized and distilled succinctly by the Swedes, allemansrätten (lit. “the everyman’s right”) is a freedom granted by the constitution that allows people access to public places in nature.
That means that even privately owned large patches of forest are free to roam, and this entire attitude towards freedom of movement in nature stems from the base attitude of trust that your fellow man will take upon themselves to “not disturb or destroy” the lands which they walk upon.
After a while, you realize that the Nordic countries have a lot of trust in their communities as they share public spaces and resources through their high tax rates, and that leads to increased co-operation and happiness in their society!
Now, that just seems too good to be true doesn’t it? Taxes? Are you mad? Yes, taxes. Taxes stand at 45% of their income, but the Nordic nations don’t view this as unjust – they view it as sharing their wealth with society and are happy to pay taxes!
The trust that they have in their society and how taxes are spent is rewarded in both the lowest income inequality levels in Europe at the top 10%, as well as the Nordic countries as a group ranking again, in the top four places of the world’s happiest countries.
Yes, that’s right, low income inequality, and happiness. All because of a bit of trust that goes round and the willingness to share wealth.
Let’s go to the other side of the globe, and look at the Asian model of prosperity, Singapore. Trust and sharing on a government level is just as important as on the community level, for what is the government but leaders of the community and society!
Singapore lists highly on the Corruption transparency (score on how corrupt a country’s public sectors are seen to be) index at 7th place, or 6th if you will, for there are 2 countries tied for 6th place too. It also has one of the lowest rates of employment at 4% maximum, as well as being the 6th best place to be born in the world, and 1st in Asia.
All of this stems from the trust that the citizens place in government accountability and transparency, as well as across racial lines. The country has at least 3 different ethno-religious groups living side by side without major tensions or disruptions to lifestyles maintained by the strict rule of law and policies promoting equality amongst all.
In addition to that, the state shares the wealth it gets from taxes on corporations and wealthy individuals with a raft of subsidies, tax breaks, incentives and bonuses on all citizens. Healthcare and housing is heavily subsidized, as is education and skills development.
Compare this, if you will, with neighbouring countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia that share similar demographics and history.
The key difference here however, is trust that their societies have in their governments as leaders of their communities at large, and how the government works to reduce inequality by sharing its wealth again, and this impacts their living conditions and happiness.
For comparison – The Nordic countries are in top 5, Singapore is ranked 7th in the corruption transparency index, Indonesia scores at 107th place, and Malaysia at 52nd place.
By the World Happiness report – The Nordic countries remain in the top 5 again, Singapore ranks 24th, Malaysia ranks at 56th, while Indonesia comes in last at 76th place.
For quality of life by the HDI or human development index, Singapore comes in at 11th place, while Malaysia and Indonesia come in at 62nd, and 110th place respectively. Unsurprisingly then, that the Nordic countries again are in the top 5.
It seems pretty clear then, that when there is trust between individuals in communities, governments and citizens it is a great starting point. However, for that trust to work, the actors and members of each community must not exploit this trust for their own gain, but work towards the betterment of their community as a whole through sharing, and that is when the entire community will profit more from it.
This applies across the globe; and is happening every day, and can work for us, if only we practice a little more trust and sharing in the communities we live in!