King Harald’s New Year’s speech 2014

“None of us can come near another person without holding that person’s life in our hands.”

Photo: Tor Atle Kleven / Wikimedia Commons King Harald V in 2010.

Photo: Tor Atle Kleven / Wikimedia Commons
King Harald V in 2010.

Translated by Finn Roed
West Bloomfield, Mich.

“None of us can come near another person without holding that person’s life in our hands.”

This I will let stand as a headline to what I wish to say tonight.

As a grandfather—and in meeting young people on my journeys around Norway—I am often amazed at the wisdom of children. That was also true in March when I had a visit at the Palace of Kapellveien Kindergarten in Oppegård municipality. The children came to me with their own constitution, which they had developed in connection with the Constitution Celebration. They wanted, as one of the boys said, “To tell how we would like it to be.”

Many of the paragraphs which the children had written concerned important things which we all—both in Norway and in the world at large—need to be reminded of. I want to highlight three of them:
• We should say nice words.
• Older children should help the younger ones.
• All people must take care of our earth.

“We shall say nice words,” was the first concern of the children’s constitutional paragraphs.

Since we know how much power lies in giving each other kind words, we ought to practice that more often. Praise gives more self-confidence, and encouragement gives us courage.

Communication on the internet has sadly sunk to a low threshold as to what we permit to say about ourselves and to each other. It hurts to hear all the stories about abusiveness both in school, in social media, and in the workplace.

I want to take this opportunity to speak to those who abuse:

There are other aspects of yourself that you can use—to do good. To those of you who experience abuse, talk with somebody; hang on to what you know inside yourself to be what you are.

Another aspect of word usage concerns free speech. We have—and will have—a high ceiling for free speech in Norway. I am glad that we hold this banner high even when the words sound absurd to your way of thinking. We have to learn to live with this.

Free speech is fine for most of us as long as we agree with what is being said. But the test comes up when we deeply disagree. At the same time, it is important to remember that, even though speech is not within the framework of the penal code, it should not go unchallenged when we believe it ought to be challenged.

We have to encourage each other to dare to have the courage to challenge.

I have a great belief in the value of people meeting face to face and giving expression to their feelings, and in the value of good conversation. This year we have experienced two important demonstrations, which are strong examples:

In November, fourteen-year-old Villamo Hatland took the initiative to demonstrate against abuses after many stories of children’s pain emerged. Thousands showed up and walked in parades in several Norwegian cities.

During the summer we experienced something historic as Norwegian Muslims arranged a demonstration against the terrorists’ terrible handling and misuse of Islam. Several thousand people participated in Oslo—opposite in religious and cultural affinity, age, and political platform. “We have proven that we can stand together as one nation,” said nineteen-year-old Fatem Al-Husseini in his testimony in front of Stortinget. This gladdened many of us, and we need more of it. It is profound strength to get together as one people with common fundamental values.

I invited leaders from many different beliefs and different views of life for a conversation in the Palace to listen to their points of view as to how we can best all live together in Norway. One of them reminded us: “The fact that we can sit around a table and talk together is a significant value.”

Dear all, let us use 2015 to give each other time for the good conversation. And to have the attention focused on each other and to say nice words to each other. We need each other’s listening presence.

“Older children should help younger children,” is another paragraph heading in Kappellveien’s Kindergarten constitution.

Even though Norway is a small country by international standards, we are among the privileged—with resources, good economy, peace, security, and social welfare for our inhabitants. There are many that need our help. We cannot support all, but we have to share this responsibility. Looked at in proportion to our population, we contribute to a large degree.

I want tonight to send warm regards to all Norwegians who have duties in foreign countries through defense, police, foreign-service, and private organizations.

Before Christmas, the queen and I were on a state visit to Myanmar—a country which struggles to develop democracy and a solid economic base. I am glad that Norway can contribute to this work.

We can afford to be generous—not only because of our economy, but we have security and abundance, which makes us want to share.

Individual lives and happiness often lie in our hands, as the Danish philosopher K. E. Logstrup mentions in the citation I read in the opening. Their destiny is weighed on our scales, therefore it is a big moral responsibility. I believe many of us may try to avoid getting too close to others, just because we then get this responsibility—the power of being human in the meeting of another human being. But who do we want to be—each and every one of us and as a nation?

Do we want to protect our own abundance and be satisfied with that?

Do we want to satisfy ourselves by living side by side with people who daily struggle for their survival?

We have to have sympathy both in meeting with people from our own country who struggle, and with people who come here in the hope of a better life—and with those who struggle in other places in the world. My thoughts go tonight especially to those who mourn after having lost their dear ones in the gruesome school massacre in Pakistan.

In 2015 it is seventy years since the Second World War ended. In October, I had significant meetings with people in Finnmark, who still remember the war vividly. It doesn’t seem so long ago.

In the North, there are many who identify with today’s refugees—who know what it was like to flee their own homes. World events can quickly turn around. We cannot take the peace as a given.

Good leadership, peace, and solid work effort through generations has created the basis so that the young in Norway can have many possibilities. Fresh research shows that today’s youth are better at home with their parents, are good students, use less stimulants than earlier and are pleased with their lives. That pleases me—for that is my impression when I meet young people around Norway. At the same time, the many possibilities—paradoxically enough—can be experienced as a burden, because when everything is possible, nothing is good enough.

One out of five teenage girls has signs of depression. They become sick from the press of expectations—both their own and those of others. We adults have an important duty to remind our youth that they are good enough as they are. That the youth feel that they belong and have security and companionship is among our most important societal duties. The young coming from traditions different than our own fall outside, and that can limit their possibilities to participate in the work force and achieve a good social life. A few end up as religious or political extremists. If they are in that milieu, they surprisingly feel themselves pulled to extremes. It is important to get ahead of these milieus and offer our young safe arenas.

“All people must take care of our earth” is the last of the children’s constitutional paragraphs I would like to bring forward.

We can compare the seriousness about the milieu situation by getting a message from the doctor that a man is seriously sick, but nevertheless, he’s not taking the life-saving medicine.

Here at home we have experienced extreme weather and a 200-year flood that has destroyed municipalities and taken people’s homes. On my travels in the last years, I have myself seen what is about to happen in several places in the world.

All life on the earth is important. We are standing in the danger zone that could rock the balance, which can get lost for all times.

When I visited the Yanomami Indians in the Amazon, I learned about how to live in harmony with nature, which is strange for most people in our part of the world. I believe we have a lot to learn from those who live close to nature, to get an understanding of how we should handle nature’s demands.

2015 is the year outdoor life is celebrated. We Norwegians love the outdoors. We enjoy this fantastic gift intensely—on the mountain, in the woods, on the seas—that we will continue and will teach new generations to value. But then we must all participate in protecting everything around us.

I hope we can manage to bring out more of the child in us:

The child’s innocent freedom, the child’s direct understanding of right and wrong, the child’s acknowledgement that it is an action, not words, that counts, the child’s courage to come close to other people—and the wonder of everything living.

I wish we could take the children’s constitution as our own as rules for good living:
• All people must take care of our earth.
• We will say nice words.
• Older children will help younger children.

For none of us can come close to another person without holding that life in our hand.

I wish each and every one of you a very Happy New Year!

This article originally appeared in the Jan. 9, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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