I’ve recently returned from living 6 months in Denmark. While there I was exposed to a phrase:
“Der er ikke noget der hedder dårligt vejr kun forkert påklædning.“
which translates to something like
“There is no such thing as bad weather, only wrong gear”
While there are mixed opinions on whether this is ‘True’ it does shed some light on a piece of Danish culture and a sort of Zen-like way of life. To me this phrase essentially says: it’s not what happens, is how you respond that matters. A lot of psychology looks at this, especially positive psychology – our response is the lens through which we see the world. Zen teaches us to observe that lens, pay attention, get to know it and in doing so it begins to change. I recently watched a TED talk by Shawn Achor where he discusses how we can generate happiness by building habits that change the lens through which we see the world.
This may not surprise some. But what surprised me was that in Denmark this lens through which you view the world stuff was not something you just happened to read in a psychology/zen book, it’s an actual cultural phrase that your parents say to you as you grow up. That comes in contrast to the Californian ‘whatever/go with the flow’ sort of attitude which builds a response of apathy. (I’m making big generalizations but I’m from California and I see this a lot.) The Danish phrase builds an attitude that is proactive and does not see environmental factors as permanent or hindering. In a lot of small ways, I experienced this in the Danish people I met and, coming from California, it was a breath of fresh air because my parents taught me much more in what I’m now calling the Danish way than the Californian way – I thank them for that.
There is also something very pedagogical about this phrase. (Denmark focuses a lot on pedagogy which I describe as a focus on raising the whole person rather than simply teaching how to add numbers together.) This phrase teaches youngsters an interactivity with the world and that their choices matter in determining the way they proceed through their life. It also teaches that you can be well equipped to handle what is on your path in life and that if something seems wrong a simple change of ‘gear’ is all that is needed – it doesn’t mean there is something wrong with you.
I now keep this phrase in my mind to remind myself, in a much more tangible way than what my parents taught me and in a less mysterious way than Zen, that I have a choice in how I respond to things –my lens through which I see the world– and I am capable of having the right ‘gear’ to make the appropriate response to the situation. I’m sure you can see how teaching an entire culture this makes a positive impact on how people interact with the world and each other.