A difference in seating arrangements

On my 6th day in Norway I was given the opportunity to tour the Norwegian parliament building. These are my takeaways.

I remember from time to time in school learning about the Scandinavian societies and how their governments are run. We’re always taught that these are the happiest nations in the world. They lack the gun violence we’ve become desensitized to. They have amazing standards for women’s rights, and their carbon footprint is minimal at worst. For me, having an Americanized education, and growing up to believe this prosperity, it was interesting to finally go into the building that seemed partially responsible for it, at least in Norway.

The building itself seemed small to me, just three stories tall or so, with few major chambers. It couldn’t have been any bigger than the Minnesota capital building, yet this is where the country held its unicameral parliament meetings, getting several standards of living to a near global peak in Norway. I interpreted this modest building as meaning the government did their job despite the surroundings or luxury that is often associated with higher political positions. It was modest, and I think thats how it should be when the objective is to better the people around you, your constituents.

The most intriguing part of the tour was the actual parliament chamber itself. Seating arrangements were the major factor here. There are several political parties in Norway with at least modest levels of power in the system. These parties are not seated in the same way our American house is set up. There is no “across the isle” combat. Instead, you are seated according to the state that elected you. This means you are very likely to sit in the parliament chamber next to a political opponent. This keeps in check the aggression and cooperation of the governing body(to a successful degree too).

Because of this form of parliamentary organization, politicians seem more likely to make friends (or at least a healthy business relationship) with those of opposing parties. Cooperation is the key outcome here. When we sit next to our opponent we breed a little more empathy. You can talk as much s*** as you want over the internet, but when it comes to face-to-face conversations, you show some more humanity. Positioning does a lot in the way we drive conversation.

All of this made me think of the “across the isle” bull we constantly hear about with Democrats and Republicans. The clashing of these two fronts divide our country. Go on Twitter and Facebook and read the nonsense that goes on. We’re led to believe that this is ok, and its very apparent that its a systematic issue. I myself am extremely guilty of clashing with political opposition when given the chance. It seems natural.

It’s also apparent that Norway doesn’t politic quiet as much as we do, if that makes any sense. I think discussion is good. We should be concerned and interested in the direction our country is going. You can’t look down at the dirt your whole life and pretend nothing is going on around you.But maybe our political conversations shouldn’t be driven by a system that seems inherently made to divide. Maybe empathy should be the number one factor in these discussions, and not the system we’ve been bred into.

All in all, I think people are much better off when they have more empathy for one another. Just a thought though.

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