Perceptions of Everyman’s Rights – Professor Göte Nyman

GöteNymanEveryman’s right in Finland can surprise many of our international guests who are not used to moving freely in forests, rowing on lakes, fishing, skiing, going ashore on wild islands and enjoying the delicious berries and mushrooms wherever they can be found.  In all of its simplicity our Everyman’s right means: “Act responsible in Finnish nature”. What a wonderful formulation for a sharing economy, and in the world where we want to learn and support new sustainable development and behaviors.

Only two months ago, before the first snow in the southern Finland, visiting the forest here nearby in Siuntio, with my wife, picking up delicious mushrooms (suppilovahvero in Finnish, funnel chanterelle) for our Sunday risotto, in this charming, quiet forest, just the two of us there, we realized how the everyman’s right is actually an early predecessor of responsible sharing economy, a peculiar form of uberization, even an ideal form of it.

We did not know who owns the forest we visited, there are typically no signs of it, but everyone, just like us, treats it with respect, enjoys its offerings – berries, mushrooms or just its peace and beauty. Like most Finns, we never leave any garbage behind us and try to maintain the nature as it is. At the same time we know that someone takes care of this forest – someone we never met and to whom we feet gratitude.

There is a peculiar global aspect of this extraordinary right: it is not ours only, but concerns other citizens of the world as well. It is not dependent on where you live, what you own or earn and it does not cost you anything. Only net and spinning rod fishing requires permission. Anyone can enjoy nature while following the simple rules of courtesy, care, and good behavior: respect the nature, don’t spoil or destroy it, don’t go too near peoples’ houses and living, don’t disturb.  You can enjoy simple fishing without any permission. All Finns learn this code of conduct as kids – and most of the parents and friends want to pass this wonderful tradition and right to the future generations.

Indeed the Everyman’s Right is a code of conduct because unlike in Norway, for example, there is no law that defines it. Over time, it has evolved as a cultural practice. It dates back to the early times where the first tribes of hunters had their ways to share the hunting grounds and ways of living in the difficult conditions here in the north.  Today, new forms of adventure sports and games like treasure hunting have found the wild – within the limits of the Everyman’s Right.

Sharing and caring economy

Learning to move in the nature by obeying these simple principles is not only a joy but it also means a way to respect and care for something that we all own. Elinor Ostrom would have a say on this: she was the Nobelist whose wonderful work is not too famous, but she studied the way people, in different parts of the world, like Nepal or USA, are able and willing to care for their commons, like watering systems and lands and to organize their work to maintain them so that everyone can benefit from them.

Underlying this wise behavior is something that will be necessary for any future form of sharing economy: motivation to think of others and leave behind something that is good for those who come after you. Without this motivation sharing is impossible and becomes just selfish exploitation.  Growth requires care. Indeed, our Everyman’s Right is a wonderful example of Caring & Sharing Economy, something that we Finns learn as kids.

Luckily Finland is not alone with this and more and more people will be learning this necessary future skill and have a chance to practice it in nature.

Göte Nyman, Professor, University of Helsinki,


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