Monday, December 1, 2008

The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World by Eric Weiner

Iceland continued: Failure = Creativity

According to Weiner, the lack of stigma associated with failure in Iceland allows Icelanders to take creative chances. If their book flops or their band remains obscure, they can just move on with their lives. To quote Weiner, "if you are free to fail, you are free to try." (p.162) Weiner's Icelanders share music and instruments and ideas within the Icelandic community, without envy, because they view such sharing as a way of creating a better community. Everyone is also free to create because they have a safety net if they fail, paid for by the government.

This is the concept that has radically changed my life. Everyone fails. Accept that you fail, accept the consequences of that failure, and move on with your life. That there will be consequences is a given, but consequences, if viewed as creative learning experiences, can be opportunities for growth. Once I embraced the idea of taking chances and allowing myself to fail, I did become a happier person.

The hard part is accepting the consequences and turning them into something creative. At the beginning of October, the British government invoked anti-terrorism laws against two Icelandic banks. As a result, Iceland's money was frozen and ultimately taken over in the UK; its financials funds were also frozen in other countries. Iceland had to apply for loans from the IMF as well as from other countries. People in Iceland have lost their savings and their pensions. Icelandic businesses cannot get other countries to accept Icelandic currency to pay for supplies. The New York Times had a sobering article about a coffee house whose owner could not get her coffee out of a foreign warehouse, although she had enough money to pay for the coffee, since she could not get anyone to exchange the Icelandic money for her:

In response, Icelanders set up :

The Iceland Petition Site:

which provides a Q&A about their financial situation and links to many interesting articles from newspapers and sites around the world about the effects of this financial disaster on both Iceland and the UK. It also asks people to sign a petition protesting the labeling of Icelanders as terrorists, and encourages people to post photo postcards with the message "I am not a terrorist" to British Prime Minister Gordon Brown. My personal favorite is the Attack Sheep one.

At the same time, Icelanders are protesting against their government. They are toilet-papering their Parliament and handing flowers to the police. Of course, everyone is posting photos of these protests online. They are demanding accountability from the government and from the banks, as well as from the UK government.

The Icelandic Tourist Board is creatively promoting Iceland as a wonderful cheap place to spend a weekend (even for people from the US)- beautiful scenery, great music and art, cool clothes, very favorable exchange rate - in order to get someone, anyone, in to spend some money. One Icelandic television show even seems to be expanding:

Weiner compares Reykjavik in the early years of this century with Florence in the time of the Renaissance - a golden age. The problem with golden age cities is that they usually meet tragic fates - most of the inhabitants dying of plague, being overrun by rulers seeking to expand empires, having their harbors silt up, or as the casualities of crusades. What remains is often an empty shell dependent on tourists who wish to recapture the beauty and excitement of a lost age. Venice, for example, is still beautiful but its empty streets lack the vitality that they had during the years of the Venetian maritime empire.

Ultimately, many Icelanders will have to leave their country to seek employment elsewhere. Will they be able to continue their creative lives in other countries? How much of their culture will they be able to export with them? How much will be left behind in Iceland's gorgeous countryside?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The lesson that golden ages are impermanent seems irrefutable -- the best that any city or civilization can hope for is to reach a pinnacle for a long but inevitably finite time. Maybe the reports that some relatively poorer places are happier than richer places illustrates the saying that "a man is as happy as he wants to be" (Abraham Lincoln?)