A photo from Hedmark, Norway - around 1900. | Photo: Ole Hansen Løken - digitaltmuseum.no HHB-09484 - public domain.
A photo from Hedmark, Norway - around 1900. | Photo: Ole Hansen Løken - digitaltmuseum.no HHB-09484 - public domain.

In conversations, I sometimes hear people base their outlook on our ancestors built on the following assumption: centuries ago, people did not have access to modern medicine and inventions; thus they must have been an unhappy and miserable lot. And judging by some history books and film depictions, people back then waded in cruelty and mud, from the day they were born, until the day they left this world.

If I presented my foremother – some forty generations back – with such a condescending view; would she have looked at me with contempt and given me a corrective slap in the face? I have a feeling that I would have ended up with a sore cheek. Not that I would blame her.

And would her response have been: Look at your own time, where people unnecessarily starve and die young – or suffer and die in avoidable wars and conflicts? All because the rich and greedy are not interested in sharing – and the powerful nations are not interested in preventing? Is that the modern world you talk so highly of? The people who are directly responsible for cruelty in this world are few – but the silent majority who says nothing are they any better? Son, you stick that in your pipe and smoke it!

No matter what culture or religion, we are taught by the wise among our elders to show respect for one another. This rule also applies when we talk through the boundaries of time. Just like the expression «the sum of all vices is constant» we could say: the sum of happiness and sorrow is also constant, regardless of what moment in history you are pointing at.

On behalf of my foremothers I say to myself and all my contemporaries: fix your own world, before you come judging mine. The world of my loved ones is of no less value than yours – and no matter what pain I have had to endure, I would never have been without the love for my children and my partner, my parents and my siblings, and the people of my community. No matter how much time has passed, I demand you show them respect – as I will do you.

Read more about Norwegian history in Northern Norway | memories from Værøy in Lofoten