This evening we have three toasts so I’m going to be brief. I don’t want things to get out of hand.
One of the great old Norse poets, Hávamál of Iceland, offered advice on how to welcome a guest, sort of like Miss Manners for Vikings. “Less good than they say for the sons of men is the drinking oft of ale, for the more they drink the less they can think and keep a watch over their wits.” Good advice. It’s perhaps easier said than done. It is true that our Nordic friends have a reputation.
Today, unlike the past, they like to pass for modesty and propriety, but don’t let them fool you. In these Nordic countries things actually can get a little wild. I understand that in Norway, for example, one of the big hits on TV is “National Firewood Night.” This is true. Video of logs burning for hours and hours and hours. It’s crazy. Another show involved a video camera being strapped to the front of a train so viewers could watch the rails for seven hours. That sounds like riveting entertainment. So we’re not going to do anything that crazy tonight.
But we are grateful for our friendship with the Nordic people, even if we do sometimes get a little jealous about how perfect them seem to be. If you’ve visited any of these Nordic countries, everything is orderly, everything is clean, everyone’s well behaved. It even prompted a best-selling book, called “The Almost Nearly Perfect People.” In the words —–, apparently Nordic countries can sometimes get into heated arguments about which country is happiest. They also do get in arguments about who has the better hockey players until America steals them away. And they also have arguments about who has the honor of being the true hometown of Santa Claus. So these are fierce debates that take place from our Nordic friends.
But, our work today actually does remind us of why we so value our Nordic partners so much. In each other we find those who we work with in pursuit of common values that we cherish the most. We stand together as citizens and live in security and peace, we labor so our economies can create opportunity and prosperity, goes not just to the top but to many.
Together, we’re at forefront with the fight against climate change, to preserve our glaciers, our fjords and protect indigenous peoples, the arctic. And in our own countries around the world we stand for the dignity and equality of all people.
Many of our Nordic friends are familiar with the great Danish pastor and philosopher Grundtvig who, among other causes, championed the idea of the Folk School — education that was not just made available to the elite, but to the many. Training that prepared a person for active citizenship, that improves a society.
Over time the Folk School Movement spread, including here to the United States. One of those schools was in the state of Tennessee. It was called the Highlander Folk School. Highlander, especially during the 1950s, a new generations of Americans came together to share their ideas and strategies for advancing civil rights, for advancing equality, for advancing justice. We know the names of some of those who were trained or participated in the Highlander school. Ralph Abernathy. John Lewis. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
They were all shaped in part by Highlander and the teachings of the great Nordic philosopher, and they ended up having a ripple effect on the Civil Rights Movement and ultimately on making America a better place. We would not have been here had it not been for that stone that was thrown in the lake and created ripples of hope that ultimately spread across the ocean to the United States of America. I might not be standing here were it not for the efforts of people like Ella Baker and the others who participated in the Highlander Folk School.
So, that’s just one small measure of the enormous, positive influence that our Nordic friends have had on our country. It’s part of the reason why we so value your friendship, and I’ve said it before and I will repeat, they punch above their weight. In their values, in their contributions, not just to making their own countries function well, but to make the whole world a better place makes them one of our most valuable partners everywhere in the world. We are very grateful for the outstanding work that they do. So I propose a toast: To the friendship between us and the values that we share, and our nations keep standing together and mending in part for the moral universe and stretching for justice and peace and equality for all. Skál. Cheers.