Maybe my generation will not quite get used to the modern times and relationships?  But then, we did get used to other social and life-style changes in my life-time, such as a high divorce-rate and many single mothers. We no longer consider divorcees and single parents less moral than the rest. The preconceived attitudes we had before have changed and become more nuanced. Yet, we may not consider all novel things ideal.

Furthermore, until 1963, only men could become pastors in the Church of Norway. But then Ingrid Bjerkaas was ordained. Now, there are hundreds of women pastors, and four out of the ten bishops are women. Nobody seems to find it wrong any more – although there verses in the Bible that say that women should not speak in public gatherings. As a matter of fact, many find women to be more socially concerned than men and even better preachers.

The Norwegians have made other changes, too, to achieve greater gender equality; the government cabinet is now usually made up of a fifty-fifty representation of men and women. If somebody had suggested that to happen when I was at secondary school, I would probably not have believed it. But my preconceived attitudes and opinions were wrong.

The parliamentary elections in Norway on 9 September were won by four centre-right parties. Three of the party leaders are women, including Erna Solberg, who is the leader of the Conservatives and is likely to be the country’s next PM. We better get used to women having a major say in the land – proving wrong all those who some generations ago thought that women should mainly be home-makers.

But then, the other day, I just saw that a gender specialist claimed that the parties led by women are not likely to have particularly feminist policies when they get into power!

Let me mention another field where the Western world has changed fast in my life-time, and in my home country, notably the way we consider persons with physical and even psychological handicaps, including learning difficulties. The vocabulary has become less discriminating, and that is also essential. Since many people, maybe most of us, do not just surf through life on the wave tops, but also experience crises, it is important to be open for the possibility of psychological and psycho-social crises, without feeling too ashamed of it. The same goes for various learning difficulties; very few of us get straight A’s in all subjects at school. As a teacher, I would perhaps like to have such pupils, but as a parent, I would be worried, too. Children should be good but not necessarily perfect.

As for social delinquency, though, I don’t think we have managed to move much ahead. We still blame the children and youth themselves, but we should instead blame the surrounding society and find more inclusive measures to help when it happens.

Similarly for immigrants and other groups who are or look different. I believe the European countries must consider their attitudes to newcomers more deeply. Generally, though, I think that people in the West are quite welcoming to newcomers, perhaps more than people elsewhere in the world, but sometimes the contact is not close and deep enough, making various ethnic and social groups live separate lives in many fields.

In Norway, many top politicians and other leaders, including the previous King of Norway, a former minister of foreign affairs, and the current PM-designate, have admitted that they have dyslexia, which is a common reading disorder, mostly in boys. Earlier, children with dyslexia would often be considered less gifted than other children. On the contrary, in spite of reading and writing handicaps, they often compensate and become very good in other fields, including in artistic fields, public speaking, etc.  Some become particularly good leaders since they tend to see the broader lines and connections rather than the details. If we had let our outdated, preconceived attitudes rule, we wouldn’t have been able to take the advantage of the special gifts of such individuals have.

And then something about Pakistan: I believe there are many preconceived attitudes in the land, not least as regards the relations with India, and to some extent with Afghanistan. Perhaps one reason is that there are too many military men who are given broad space in the media whereas it should be for the politicians and ordinary people to shape the relations. We also have deep-rooted class differences in Pakistan and lack of communication and knowledge about ‘the others’. The upper-classes should not always have the upper hand, and think they are right. These are just a few examples where we have preconceived attitudes and outdated opinions. 

But not all new things are good. Of course not, but many are, at least if we allow common sense to rule and if everybody participates in open and honest debates when making changes. The guiding principle should be to make a society fairer and better for all. The Swedes always emphasize that, yes, perhaps even more than the Norwegians. And I believe ordinary people in Pakistan do it, too. We need impulses and ideas from outside, but we must make them relevant locally. We need openness and debate, looking at old issues from new angles. We must not make heavy-handed decisions on behalf of others, but be all-inclusive and less rigid than we have often been in the past.

The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience from research, diplomacy and development aid.