Life lessons from Moominvalley I

“grayscale photo of mountain covered by clouds” by Tobias Kebernik on Unsplash

Many people think announcing your goals out loud helps achieve them. Are they right? The science of goal-achievement is unsettled, but there are certainly exceptions to the conventional wisdom.

In a story called Hemulen who loved silence, the famed Finnish novelist Tove Jansson talks about one such exception. Although it is a children’s story, it has a deep, even philosophical message.

The quiet-loving main character of the story, Hemulen, works in an amusement park, surrounded by the merrymaking of his terribly large extended family. His relatives are “a great lot of enormous, rollicking, talkative hemulens”, who go about “slapping each other’s backs and bursting into gigantic laughs” — extroverts, in a word. Hemulen, wanting to be kind to his relatives, adapts to his role as the facilitator of the loud merrymaking, concealing, ignoring and suppressing his own need for quiet and solitude.

One day Hemulen’s routines are interrupted by an unexpected request. His relatives discover that Hemulen is not really enjoying his life, and they push him to reveal what he really wants. He confesses to his wish: “I’d like to build myself a doll’s house. The most beautiful doll’s house in the world, with lots and lots of rooms, and all of them silent and solemn and empty.” He verbalizes his dream for the first time.

And his relatives, although well-meaning, cannot wrap their heads around this odd dream. They burst into laughter. They laugh, and Hemulen’s dream vanishes. He no longer wants to build a doll’s house. “It’s a risky thing to talk about one’s most secret dreams a bit too early”, Jansson writes.