Sunday, October 26, 2014

Musings on Mentality

I used to think that the "facade of indifference" was a uniquely American ability to be dishonest. Americans try to make themselves invulnerable and attractive by showing how little they care about something. The less you care, the more interesting you are. I was never very good at not caring about stuff. My boy Josh Hardin has got the "don't care" game down pat.

I long respected Russia and Russians for being genuine and authentic. Whereas Americans are always friendly to you in a fake sort of way that doesn't actually imply any genuine feelings, Russians tend to wear their emotions on their sleeves (tend, mind you). They will tell you when you messed up, they will express interest and genuine friendliness directly and quickly, but mostly this cultural aspect manifests itself in that if a Russian is having a bad day, he or she will try to make you have a bad day too. Americans tend to avoid one-anothers' problems, whereas Russian acquaintances will listen to your problems and give you their advice rather freely.

However, as it turns out, in Western terms Russia is just as miserably dishonest in it's own way. There's actually a term for this dishonesty, враньё (Vran'-YO). It translates differently as lies, fibs, tall tales, white lies, nonsense, idle talk, twaddle, or flam, or taradiddle. I'm gonna go ahead and call it what it is - bullshit.

In short, Russians give you bullshit to save face. They understand that this world is dog eat dog (or at least their world is) and they fight for everything they have. The truth is subjective. This exists on the interpersonal as well as the official level, and it's finally starting to drive me crazy.

But don't take my word for it. Take Fyodor Doestoevsky's:

"Among our Russian intellectual classes the very existence of a non-liar is an impossibility, the reason being that in Russia even honest men lie... I am convinced that in other nations, for the great majority, it is only scoundrels who lie; they lie for practical advantage, that is, with directly criminal aims."

Or Leonid Andreyev's:

"Yes, the Russian is incapable of telling downright lies; but seems equally incapable of telling the truth. The intermediate phenomenon for which he feels the utmost love and tenderness resembles neither truth nor lie. It is Vran'yo. Like our native Aspen, it pops up uninvited everywhere, choking other varieties; like the aspen it is no use for firewood or carpentry; and, again like the aspen, is sometimes beautiful."

Russians will show you their emotions and not explain the reason, or give you a fake reason. Or they will tell you how "Russians think in general," but of course they don't think that way. Or you will correctly guess the reason for something (for example, a girl is mad at you because you offended her by being a western barbarian), they will deny it, act offended, throw a fit, and then agree with you.

The point is, again, that Russians can't accept the truth when that truth is negative. They find some middle ground, which is neither true nor false (I find it to be closer to false). Russians use this bullshit to manipulate you into doing what they want, or believing what they want - a skill they are amazingly good at.

Sometimes they use bullshit when you actually hit the nail on the head, but the truth is offensive to them (such as that they are materialistic). They know they are materialistic, you know they are materialistic, but you can't actually have a discussion about the fight you just got in over money because mentioning her materialism is offensive and painful to accept. It seems a lot of communication here is done through tacit understandings, traditions, and subtle hints - all things that lead to complete disaster in cross-cultural communication.



I suppose I'm being a little harsh. This is normal for them. It's not even considered dishonesty here. Maybe because everyone does it. Or maybe because everyone is really good at reading between the lines and they can communicate that way without ever touching any nerves. Maybe the bullshit is why they always ask so many questions to pin you down to an exact answer - they are used to people dodging and weaving, but really they appreciate a straight answer as much as anyone. They just don't like giving straight answers. A straight answer is something to fight for and to avoid giving. Why give away your secrets? Why give the other person an advantage by giving them the truth? They aren't going to give you the truth without a fight, so why give yours away?

I tend to treat people with respect and be honest about my emotions and the reasons for my emotions. I try not to keep secrets and when I mess up I acknowledge the mistake. I'll be the first to apologize - even if you're the one being ridiculous. I will put the blame on myself for being a party to the conflict. Sometimes I think that humility, modesty, and respect will be repaid, but I keep getting burned anyway.

Russians hold their cards close to their chest. Their insecurity and defensiveness permeates every aspect of their society and interactions. I'm not sure if I'll ever adapt to that.

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