What We Can Learn from Iceland

January 11, 2018 by

Last month I was shocked and bemused when I heard that Iceland’s soccer team had made it to the 2018 World Cup and we, the United States, had not! Iceland, with a population a bit smaller than Cleveland or Tampa, won their qualifying group and will enter the final tournament to face off with the likes of Argentina. What is behind that?

As we enter a new year, 2018, what can we learn from other countries? We, who habitually preach about democracy and health to other nations, could perhaps start learning from them too!

Three boys playing soccer

Decades ago, swamped in substance abuse and delinquent youth, the entire country of Iceland put its shoulder to the wheel and invested in its young and restless: strictly enforced curfews, pre-emptive afterschool programs in art, music, aerobic sports, and so on. It was more about investing time than money, and everybody was on board.

Now the fruits are rolling in. Drug abuse is down to almost zero, the country’s success in sports and other areas has shocked the world. Their teenage drug abuse dropped from 42 percent to 5 percent in the last twenty years. And, most important, the joy level has gone ballistic.

Those of us from large, powerful countries should take note. There is nothing like a country united behind a cause.

I personally think it would be much more fun. Imagine if American or British youth experienced a precipitous fall in obesity, diabetes, drug abuse, and depression; got interested in the outdoors; in other languages; in the classic arts and our spiritual heritage.

The person who learns self-control will learn to enjoy the world. Without it we are captivated by the fierce hydraulic of permanent adolescence.

Imagine if the rest of us could play a decisive part in bringing this about!

A few years ago a busload of young Icelandic teachers who stopped by our community on their New York tour surprised us by singing completely unrehearsed, upbeat versions of traditional Icelandic songs. Without script or background music they rocked the dining hall with the enthusiasm and unity of their songs. Now that’s patriotism of the right kind.

It’s not the number of guns under our beds that matters when it comes to healing and protecting our country, but our investment in principles and in education – principles that come from respect for others, and education that introduces life-goals, life-skills, and self-discipline. The person who learns self-control will learn to enjoy the world. Without it we are captivated by the fierce hydraulic of permanent adolescence.

Iceland is by no means perfect. But let’s learn whatever we can, wherever we can. A drowning man will grasp at a splinter, and here we have a whole raft of inspirations.

And who knows, maybe next time it will be our soccer team that stuns the world.


About the author

Simon Mercer

Simon Mercer

Simon Mercer is a free-thinking Anabaptist, would-be poet who lives at the Maple Ridge Bruderhof.

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