The Spiky Grass Doctrine: How Small Countries Survive

When I’m alone, I spend some time counting my blessings and scars. One of my biggest blessing is that I have one of the finest ears in the world. I hear very well. I can listen to many layers, and sources of voice simultaneously and digest them in parallel.

When I was a child at school, I was one of the most turbulent kid, a real trouble maker. Though I was often one of the smallest boy in the classrooms, I used to seat at the rear of the classroom with the wall kids, at the last ranks of benches.

The rear is the most fun part of any classroom (as far as kids are concerned). We’d spent most of the time talking and playing instead of following the teacher. Regardless of this poor behavior, when the exams marks would come, I would come up as the first student or among the best of the class.

In fact, I was not aware of my listening skills until my 12th year at school, when I received an award for – surprisingly – being the best student in my region. The following year, one our teachers warned my fellow wall students not to follow me because, presumably, I have some voodoo that helps me follow the lessons and succeed, regardless of being distracted with them.

It was in 1992. That teacher tipped me about my listening skill, and since then I use it in a more conscious way.

When I’m traveling I tune up my sponge ears to collect hundred of local stories, and one of the best story I’ve ever been told was in 2013 in Kaunas, the second biggest town of Lithuania, a north-eastern European country.

It was about a “spiky grass doctrine” adopted by lithuanians for self-preservation regardless of adversity.

The man is tall, witty, a devout epicurean trapped in the soulless capitalism dropped on his country after the soviet union communism ended. He likes to entertain, and has well mannered gestures when speaking. He has found in my untiring ears a friendly companion for endless stories he would be telling me for over 11 months.

“How did Lithuania succeeded to preserve its culture, language, regardless of many occupations and wars?” I asked

“We are a small country surrounded by big powers. We don’t have much option you know. We have seen powers from west going east, and powers from east going west. They, somehow, have to go through here. Can we stop them? No. So we are like a grass. When the wind goes east we move east. When the wind goes west we move west. But, we are a spiky grass. We have small thorns that keep our occupants aware that we want to preserve who we are.” he responded with glowing eyes, and also pride.

“Wow…very interesting” I said with unhidden admiration

“Is that a kind of state doctrine?” I asked

“I don’t know, but it’s what history has thought us, and what we practice here. You’ll be welcome here, where ever you go. As far as people don’t know who you are, and what you represent, they’d would “welcome” you to learn who you are first. Any foreigner could come and feel like at home, but Lithuania is country where we have learnt to be careful, but bold enough to spike anyone who want to hurt us. We are a brave nation when pushed, what ever the direction. East or west.” The man replied.

I found the “spiky grass doctrine” very interesting, even more fascinating is how the doctrine deeply penetrated the daily life of people in the country.

Another european country I’ve visited where people have a clear vision of who they are is Finland. Finland is a european country which has been occupied, colonized, and till today its children are still forced to learn a uselessly foreign language.

When I asked people on the street or in meetings “who are the Finns?”, the usual answer was “we are a nation of designers and geeks. We are small but effective”.

Finland is truly the first european country I’ve visited and felt like the whole country was functioning like a Perhe. Perhe in Finn means family, and family means no one should be left behind or ignored. (Lilo & Stitch)


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About Mawuna KOUTONIN

Mawuna Koutonin is a world peace activist who relentlessly works to empower people to express their full potential and pursue their dreams, regardless of their background. He is the Editior of, Founder of, and Social activist for Africa Renaissance. Koutonin’s ultimate dream is to open a world-class human potential development school in Africa in 2017. If you are interested in learning more about this venture or Koutonin’s other projects, you can reach him directly by emailing at

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