Friday, March 23, 2018 — Lóa fiðurgisin

Engis biður ein á strönd
— elsk að friði— þysinn,
Stor­mak­lið né lýð um lönd
lóa fiður­gisin.

[Alone on the beach, the feath­ers worn and shabby, the peace lov­ing bird tries to evade the noise and the storms that blow through the lands.]

̶ Guð­mundir Friðjónsson

The above is from an amaz­ing record­ing of rímur sung by Steindór Ander­sen, a renowned kvæða­maður, or tra­di­tional chanter. This verse is from an old record­ing, but it is fol­lowed by addi­tional verses in a mod­ern, rock-like orches­tra­tion by Hilmur Örn Hilmars­son. Both men have worked with Sigur Rós. The sen­ti­ment is appro­pri­ate to my inves­ti­ga­tions in Ice­land. This small, peace-loving island coun­try has weath­ered many storms blow­ing across the sea from pow­er­ful con­ti­nen­tal tem­pests. While mis­takes have been made, Ice­land is a place where peo­ple seem to believe that prob­lems can be solved. This atti­tude is in sharp con­trast to the mor­bid pas­siv­ity and defeatism that enshrouds some of the larger and louder nations. To under­stand this, I’ve been speak­ing with a vari­ety of Ice­landers. It is just a first step. I have been merely intro­duc­ing myself and estab­lish­ing some rap­port so that these issues can be explored in greater depth by cor­re­spon­dence. It has proven both infor­ma­tive and delight­ful. The egal­i­tar­ian Ice­landers care not that I have lit­tle pres­tige — I’m merely a curi­ous Cana­dian. Peo­ple rang­ing from civic and national politi­cians and civil ser­vants to aca­d­e­mics, musi­cians, and film­mak­ers, have all given me pre­cious time and hon­est talk. I must thank, among them, Ásgrí­mur Sver­ris­son, Kári Gun­nars­son, Sveinn Guð­munds­son, Herdis Sig­ur­jons­dot­tir, Ste­fán Bal­durs­son, Sibeso Imbula, and Sig­urður Bjorn Blondal. There will be oth­ers to thank in the days to come.

Solv­ing the prob­lems that face a nation is not served by con­coct­ing utopias, but by observ­ing sound prin­ci­ples of fair­ness and rea­son. I was delighted that every­one I spoke with seemed to take that approach. There was no whin­ing. As one of my infor­mants observed, in the wake of the finan­cial cri­sis of 2008 some of the peo­ple respon­si­ble for the deba­cle were later instru­men­tal in cor­rect­ing it. Appar­ently, the well-being of the coun­try in the end over­ruled stub­born pride. This was a remark­able point to make. Every nation, like every extended fam­ily, has its fools, and even the wis­est have their moments of fool­ish­ness. But it is a strong fam­ily indeed that has fools who learn from their folly. When I was in Ice­land the first time, shortly after the cri­sis, I did not find peo­ple in a panic or a rage. I found peo­ple who knew that they had made mis­takes, and were deter­mined to cor­rect them. Now that I am back, I see the results of those efforts, and they are impres­sive. Cana­di­ans could learn from this. We are not a small, tightly bound together coun­try like Ice­land. Indeed, we are loose and sprawl­ing, with many fac­tions barely aware of each oth­ers’ exis­tence. But we are not a tor­pid giant like our neigh­bour to the south, and not con­demned to moral and intel­lec­tual paral­y­sis — unless we so choose.

We are now enter­ing a time of much greater per­ils than mere stock mar­ket crashes. We will have to step nim­bly to survive.

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