With the Danish elections approaching, it struck me how differently America and Denmark view politics and how much this may be tied to our upbringing.
In America, there are four basic parenting styles: authoritarian, authoritative, permissive and uninvolved. While we don’t have exact statistics on how common each one is, we do know that the authoritarian style is prevalent.
Authoritarian parents are strict, quick to punish and low on empathy towards their children. It’s the ‘my way or the highway’ approach. It’s often infused with fear-based tactics to evoke submission. Children are not encouraged to ask why. They are encouraged to do as they are told because Daddy knows best. Authoritarian parenting, like all parenting styles, is often passed down from generation to generation.
For a lot of Americans, Trump’s rhetoric resonates as familiar and perhaps even comforting. He is powerful and often threatening, but many find this appropriate and effective. Even if they don’t agree with everything he says, truth or lies, as long as he takes care of business, they don’t question his authority, words or actions.
Closer in collaboration
In Denmark, on the other hand, the prevalent parenting style is based on mutual respect not fear. There is a major focus on teaching empathy to children, and there is a low power differential between people in general. Rules are explained, and children are encouraged to ask questions. Danish parents try to avoid power struggles, ultimatums and ‘I win’ mentalities. It doesn’t matter how rich and powerful you are, it matters more how you treat others and what you stand for as a person.
Moreover, 60 percent of schoolwork in Denmark is done in teams, and collaborating is far more important than competing to be a winner.
As way leads on to way, Denmark’s politics reflect this. They have many parties in politics, not just two represented by one candidate as we do in the US. When a party comes into power it must collaborate with other parties and listen to the people or it loses its influence. Again, this is a very clear reflection of the values they grew up with as children.
Taking a quantum leap
It’s extraordinary to think that by simply focusing on our parenting practices – by teaching more empathy and collaboration, for example – we could drastically change the future of society. There is an expression that ‘when we replace “I” with “we”, even illness becomes wellness’, and this could very well be true for politics as well.
It might take another generation or two to challenge the unfettered belief that rugged individualism, being rich and winning isn’t the American Dream, but it starts with parenting and education leading us on a different path. If we raise our children with more empathy, for example, they will be the ones to change the system.
Who wins the Danish election or the American presidency next time around is anyone’s guess, but if the US ever wants to top the World Happiness Reports, Denmark might be able to offer some examples we could all learn from.