I still remember the replies when I told people I was going to the Sweden Stockholm Mission:
“Oh, that’s a hard mission! I’ve heard everyone is a socialist there!”
“Isn’t that the country that has universal healthcare? I’ve heard from my friends that it’s absolutely horrible.”
“Oh, I’ve heard that’s a really hard mission. Will you be speaking German?”
No, I didn't learn German. I didn't see the Matterhorn and other parts of the Swiss Alps either (you might only get this joke if you are a former Sweden-Stockholm missionary). However, I did come back with an appreciation for the land of the North--the past home of Vikings, Garbo, and Alfred Nobel. It was impossible not to have an admiration for what Sweden, along with its Scandinavian neighbors Norway, Denmark, and Finland have accomplished. My evolution to becoming liberal began the day I received my mission call.
I served almost twenty years ago (95-97)--right when Sweden was experiencing an economic crisis. Even then, I never thought of Sweden as a perfect Utopia. Like any country, there are challenges and problems. But for this piece I want to point out the successes that helped me to change my thinking on many social ideas. Within two years my tone on many ideas began to change:
- Education is very important in Scandinavia. Long ago Scandinavia and Finland geared itself for the technology and service fields. Here are some important facts: Finland and Scandinavia continually produce students who are literate. The Finnish school system has been examined by academics and professionals worldwide. Everything from Nokia to Angry Birds to Spotify to Skype have been created by Scandinavian and Finnish technology companies. In all of these countries, higher education is not only free, but is paid for by the public sector. Students receive money to go to school. The consequence is one of the brightest, most educated, and tech savvy nations in the world. In return, Scandinavians and Finns enjoy a high standard of living. They have learned, if you invest in your people, the return will come back tenfold.
- Sweden has an innovative economy that’s willing to take ideas from both sides of the economic spectrum and implement them. I think this is important to emphasize to both my liberal and conservative friends—Sweden has a balanced budget. If you think that Sweden is a socialist mecca--please do more research. The country has changed since the 70's. Sweden also has a robust and healthy banking system that’s regulated. The current innovative system was created after the Swedish economic crisis of the early 1990’s. While other economies in Europe have sputtered, Sweden has created a stable, competitive, and innovative economy.
- Sweden is a leader in healthcare, parental benefits, and pension plans. As noted above, Sweden has a balanced budget and yet is able to provide its people with a good quality of life. The wealth gap is among the lowest in the world. I never witnessed the poverty I do in my own community. More importantly, I realized that family is very important to most Swedes. Many of these benefits help families—paid leave for mothers, paid leave for fathers, high paid jobs, multiple weeks of vacation—all of these things are available to strengthen Swedish families. For more information on Swedish benefits, go here:
- Sweden has a transparent government. The same rights guaranteed for us Americans through our constitution are an integral part of Swedish life. Since 1766, Swedes have had the Freedom of the Press. More importantly, Swedes are very open when it comes to government records. They have continually been ranked as one of the most transparent countries in the world. Corruption in Sweden is among the lowest in the world.
When I got back from my mission, I was a changed man. One thing that we and the Swedes have in common is this—Swedes and Mormons are both caring people. We both value education, good healthcare, and good values that have been passed on for generations. Most of all, we value our families. Mormons often get accused of “thinking like Democrats, but voting for Republicans!” The past few elections, I came to the conclusion that since I was thinking like a Democrat, I might as well vote for a Democrat.