Consensus and the Danish Way

At Danish folkeskole, children are given many opportunities to discuss issues. They have Danish lessons, “community” lessons and even their foreign language lessons have meaty topics like “race” or “poverty”. They are trained to say “jeg synes…” or “jeg mener…” (I think) and then give their opinion. They are then trained to hear another give their opinions. Then they will work on finding a consensus. And then everyone says “Thanks for the debate” and they stop.

A photo of a cup of coffee. Esperanto: Taso de...
og tak for kaffe

If an issue is divisive, you will hear Danes say “It’s a pity the vote was split,” as if polarisation is a bad thing. And not, as it is rather, just a thing. It is better for everyone, they believe, if they reach the wrong consensus than if the right decision is taken without full support.

You know what, that’s fine. It’s another way. The deadlock in Congress in the US is another. What’s going on with the NHS back home is another. There are LOTS of ways to make the wrong decision.

Where Denmark runs into problems is that this method only works if you can trust everyone. If people are trustworthy, if their opinions are genuinely felt, if their facts are checked; then you can do much much worse than just talking about it until everyone mostly agrees.

The problem is when someone is actively trying to mislead, outright lie or has the wrong end of the stick. As long as they are persistent and reasonably persuasive, the consensus will include their suggestions or proposals. No one will think to dig holes in what they are saying, no one will consider that they need to fact check. You have to trust people, you see. This world view is sweet and all, but it is useless in the face of scoundrels and fools.

Without the cursory checks that even basic critical thinking affords, there is no way to discern good ideas from bad. All ideas are equally valid.

This leads to terrible situations where people will vote for anything just not to be left out of the consensus. Where people will not look any more deeply than the headlines (even if it is their job to do so), where people get confused (and not angry), if you suggest that what they are saying is fraudulent or a lie. You are supposed to trust me, I don’t understand why you don’t just say “jeg synes…” and we can have another cup of coffee!

If you patiently explain how something might be illegal or morally reprehensible, the reasoning of children is employed again “But everyone else is doing it…”

Honestly, it is like living in a Jonathan Swift novel. Or that film with Ricky Gervais that wasn’t very good.

That’s not to say there aren’t any questioning souls here because there are. They are just not appreciated and are marginalised. It’s not “The Danish Way”, so there is no room for them. Jeg synes, at det er trist.

6 thoughts on “Consensus and the Danish Way

  1. It is sad that there are so many angry people leading America today.

    They do not want consensus. They want divisiveness and anger.

    Maybe a little Danish debate would do us some good after all.



    1. Yeah, I’m sure the answer is in the middle somewhere! A little bit of “trying to get along” with a little bit of “let’s check your facts” would be a dream combination.


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