Template:The Russian Soul

From Why Dont Russians Smile The definitive guide to the differences between Russians and Americans
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The famous “Russian soul” was to no small extent the product of this agonizing uncertainty regarding Russia’s proper geographical, social, and spiritual position in the world, the awareness of a national personality that was split between East and West. —Tibor Szamuely, The Russian Tradition (1974).

Just because Russians “don't smile” does not mean that inwardly they are soulless drones or secretly conniving. Russians smile when they have a genuine reason. Russian smiles are authentic. Furthermore, although they deeply value intellectualism and education (erudition), they are leery of (antithetical towards) being ruled by logic. In fact, Russians value the ability to fully experience and act on their passions and emotions.

The Russkaya dusha (Russian soul) is well known in the arts, where it manifests itself as emotion, sentimentality, exuberance, energy, the theatre and flamboyant skill. But Russian soul is much more than just the arts. It is the very essence of Russian behavior. The Russian soul can turn up suddenly in the most unexpected places—and just as suddenly disappear. Just when foreigners believe that Russians are about to get down to serious business, they can become decidedly emotional and unbusinesslike.

The Russian soul is a romantic ethos which:

1. appeals to feeling rather than fact,
2. sentiment over certainty,
3. suffering instead of satisfaction, and
4. nostalgia for the past as opposed to the reality of the present.

In a broader sense the Russian Soul is how Russians reaffirm to themselves the purity of proud traditional Russian values against the encroachment of Western enlightenment, nationalism, and secularism, especially in cultural things.

Today, the Russian soul is still deeply felt. Old traditional positive virtues still endure:

1. the importance of hospitality,
2. the importance of true friendship,
3. being more emotional and open with ones true friends,
4. helping other people when they need it,
5. taking hardship and suffering with a pinch of salt,
6. respect for parents,
7. deference to elderly, and
8. regard for learning.

A belief in village virtues is also still strong:

1. self-sacrifice,
2. a sense of duty,
3. compassion,
4. importance of family,
5. a love of nature.

These aspects of the Russian soul are again the themes of “village writers,” as they are known, who glorify peasant life and encourage a renaissance of traditional Russian values.

1. Students hang on the words of their professors.
2. Grateful audiences present flowers to musical and theatrical performers.
3. Before vacating a home where they have lived for some time, Russians will sit quietly for a minute or two, reflecting on the events they have experienced there.

The Russian soul is often derided in the West as a fantasy of artists, composers, and writers. If the Russian soul ever really existed, this argument goes, it was the product of a traditional agricultural society that had very little in material goods to offer. In a modern industrial society the Russian soul is quickly forgotten and Russians become as realistic, practical, materialistic, and unromantic as Westerners.[1][2]

As in many aspects of Russia, the truth is more complex and lies somewhere in between. Russians do have a rich spirituality that does indeed contrast with Western rationalism, materialism, and pragmatism. Russians suffer but based on the amount their popular literature discusses suffering, Russians seem to enjoy this suffering. Obsessed with ideas, their conversations are weighty and lengthy. Russians often reject the American’s rational and pragmatic approach. Instead personal relations, feelings, and traditional values determine their course of action. In contrast, Westerners tend to view themselves as pragmatic, relying on the cold facts.[3][4]

That Slavic soul has many aspects that Westerners can respect and admire. As Northwestern University professor Irwin Weil explains:

Russians maintain their integrity in a way that conforms to their inner notion of what a human being should be, in a manner they consider proper, and with an honesty and decency that I have seldom seen anywhere else in the world. Above all, they have an appreciation for tselnost (wholeness, complete commitment) and faith, no matter what that faith may be related to. To be a real human being, one must maintain that full commitment, and respect it in other people as well.[5]

Tatyana Tolstaya, one of Russia’s leading contemporary writers, says:

Russian writers and thinkers have often called the "Russian soul" female, contrasting it to the rational, clear, dry, active, well-defined soul of the Western man….Logic [is] inapplicable to the soul. But Russian sensitivity, permeating the whole culture, doesn’t want to use logic—logic is seen as dry and evil, logic comes from the devil— the most important thing is sensation, smell, emotion, tears, mist, dreams, and enigma. In Russian culture, emotion is assigned an entirely positive value. The more a person expresses his emotions, the better, more sincere, and more ‘open’ he is. The Russian mentality has penetrated to some degree all corners of the country - often not for the best.

Tolstaya continues that the Russian soul is described as:

sensitivity, reverie, imagination, an inclination to tears, compassion, submission mingled with stubbornness, patience that permits survival in what would seem to be unbearable circumstances, poetry, mysticism, fatalism, a penchant for walking the dark, humid back streets of consciousness, introspection, sudden, unmotivated cruelty, mistrust of rational thought, fascination with the word—the list could go on and on—all these qualities that have frequently been attributed to the “Slavic soul.”[6]

Americans are more depressed than Russians, even though Russians are more self-reflective.

Two University of Michigan psychological scientists found that:

1. Russians were much more likely to be self-reflective: they think more about their fundamental nature and essence than Americans. But this Russian character trait was not linked to depression.

2. Less analytical Americans had more symptoms of depression than Russians,

3. Russians are more detached than while recalling a bad experience.

a. Russians thought about the bad event in a healthier way:
i. keeping more psychological distance from the emotional details.
ii. analyzed their feelings, but with detachment, and this detachment buffered Russians from depression.

4. Like Eastern cultures, Russians embrace sadness and pity instead of trying to block it like Americans tend to do.

5. Russians tend to be more communal, more focused on interpersonal harmony

a. This allows them to see their own personal needs in larger context, from an outsider perspective.

6. Americans come from a tradition of rugged individualism, and tend to focus on the personal.

a. With less of a community perspective, they immerse themselves in the emotional details of negative events, and this self focus leads to distress and depression.

The lesson is clear: If you're going to brood, then brood like a Russian. Just remember to go easy on the vodka.[7][8][9][10][11][12]

Even today emotions and personal feelings still matter to Russians. The future of the Russian soul brother Russians. It has survived centuries of church and state domination and 70 years of communism. Will it also survive, they wonder, the transition to the free market and democracy, and the call of Western culture?[13]

The Russian soul is a way to glorifying an aspect of one's culture that is otherwise actually quite negative[14][15]

Obviously there’s nothing magical about the Russian soul. However, all nationalities do have specific characteristics that set them apart from all other nationalities. The term “Russian soul” is just a way of expressing how very different Russians are from other Europeans.

The Russian Soul is a concept similar in function as British 'Stiff Upper Lip' or 'The American Dream' (to a lesser extent).

The stiff upper lift - is a quality of remaining calm and not letting other people see what they are really feeling in a difficult or unpleasant situation

The Russian soul is a way Russians glorify an aspect of their culture that is otherwise actually quite negative.

The British are incredibly reserved, and have difficulty expressing themselves emotionally. They have the emotional range of a shoe. Rather than look at this emotional reservation as bad, they explain that it helped to build a massive Empire.

The 'American Dream' is a wonderful thing. It propagates the idea that you could overcome the massive social inequality, bigotry, racism and failings if you dream and work hard enough. If you don't make it, it's because you didn't work hard enough or dream hard enough, it has nothing to do with the system being massively unequal and favouring only the very few. The American system is like a casino. The house always wins, but it gives the normal person just enough chance to make them think they might succeed.

And then we come to the 'Russian Soul'.

Dostoyevsky explained, "the most basic, most rudimentary spiritual need of the Russian people is the need for suffering, ever-present and unquenchable, everywhere and in everything"

And he is right, Russians are addicted to suffering. Why? Russians spend most of their life getting f****d in some way. Rather than see it as a bad thing, they, like the British and Americans, glorify it. This suffering makes them better than anyone else!

As Li Mu explains:

Many, many times, I've heard Russians have 'suffering competitions'. They'll brag about how they've suffered more than anyone else. Have a look for the Monty Python 'Yorkshireman Sketch' to get an idea. I once mentioned a time when I had a bad birthday. My two Russian colleagues just couldn't let it lie. They had to beat me and proceeded to explain the myriad of ways that their birthdays were worse than anything I had ever experienced.

In all cases, the glorification of one's inadequacies and failings is a coping mechanism.

Brits: I don't know how to show my emotions. But it's OK because it's the British Stiff Upper Lip.

Americans: I work my ass off with two jobs and still can't afford rent. But it's OK because if I suffer and work even harder I can live the American Dream.

Russians: My life is a tragic mess and I've somehow found myself living in Norlisk (an industrial city located above the Arctic Circle). But it's OK. I have a Russian soul and I eat suffering for breakfast.

There is definitely a set of characteristics, often referred to as “the Russian soul”, that make Russians unique. Expats who say there isn’t, as well as Russians who say foreigners will never be able to understand it (умом Россию не понять), are both wrong.[16]

The mind cannot understand Russia

(умом Россию не понять)

The Great russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev (Фёдор Иванович Тютчев) wrote a beautiful poem, which is very popular in Russia:

You will not grasp her with your mind

Or cover with a common label,

For Russia is one of a kind -

Believe in her, if you are able...

Fyodor Tyutchev.jpg
  1. Richmond, Yale. (2008). From Nyet to Da: Understanding the New Russia. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
  2. Edward Adrian-Vallance, https://www.facebook.com/edward.adrianvallance
  3. Richmond, Yale. (2008). From Nyet to Da: Understanding the New Russia. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
  4. Edward Adrian-Vallance, https://www.facebook.com/edward.adrianvallance
  5. Richmond, Yale. (2008). From Nyet to Da: Understanding the New Russia. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
  6. 55
  7. Herbert, Wray. ‘To suffer is to suffer’: Analyzing the Russian national character. (June 30, 2010). Association for Psychological Science. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/news/were-only-human/to-suffer-is-to-suffer-analyzing-the-russian-national-character.html
  8. Oleg Yegorov. February 22 2019. Why do Russians benefit from suffering? https://www.rbth.com/lifestyle/330011-russian-suffering
  9. Jonah Lehrer. 2010. Why Russians Don't Get Depressed. https://www.wired.com/2010/08/why-russians-dont-get-depressed/
  10. Caroline Humer. (July 15, 2010). Russians brood, but Americans get depressed - study, Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/idUSN15202897. "Russians dwell on negative emotions much as novelists Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy so famously detailed, but they are less likely to become depressed than Americans, according to two new studies." Igor Grossmann. University of Michigan researcher who worked on the studies.
  11. Varnum, M. E. W., Grossmann, I., Kitayama, S., & Nisbett, R. E. (2010). The Origin of Cultural Differences in Cognition. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19(1), 9–13. doi:10.1177/0963721409359301
  12. Igor Grossmann and Ethan Kross. The Impact of Culture on Adaptive Versus Maladaptive Self-Reflection. Psychological Science , AUGUST 2010, Vol. 21, No. 8 (AUGUST 2010), pp. 1150-1157 Sage Publications, Inc. on behalf of the Association for Psychological Science. URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/41062346 "Although recent findings indicate that people can reflect either adaptively or maladaptively over negative experiences, extant research has not examined how culture influences this process. We compared the self-reflective practices of Russians (members of an interdependent culture characterized by a tendency to brood) and Americans (members of an independent culture in which self-reflection has been studied extensively). We predicted that self-reflection would be associated with less-detrimental outcomes among Russians because they self-distance more when analyzing their feelings than Americans do. Findings from two studies supported these predictions. In Study 1, self-reflection was associated with fewer depressive symptoms among Russians than among Americans. In Study 2, Russians displayed less distress and a more adaptive pattern of construals than Americans after reflecting over a recent..."
  13. Richmond, Yale. (2008). From Nyet to Da: Understanding the New Russia. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
  14. Li Mu, https://www.facebook.com/li.mu.5015
  15. Edward Adrian-Vallance, https://www.facebook.com/edward.adrianvallance
  16. Edward Adrian-Vallance, https://www.facebook.com/edward.adrianvallance