Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Russian Thinking Vs American Thinking

I was talking with a Russian immigrant on Sunday who made the point that lying is so deeply engrained in Russians that it must always be accepted as a given, especially in the realm of politics. I asked whether this was a cultural issue, or the natural result of living under great deprivation. He wagged his head, and offered an analogy:
In Russia, the subway stations are gorgeous; like museums, with sculptures, paintings and jewels. The trains, however, are total crap, and haven't been replaced since the 1970s.
He sat back sheepishly, as the rest of us scratched our heads and cleared our throats. Unable to drive home his metaphor, he'd conked out. The conversation moved on to other topics.

But this was like pure catnip to my brain, so I spent the next hour trying to complete the metaphor, finally managing it (to his satisfaction). I recount it here not to share the conclusion - which is clever but not particularly interesting - but as an illustration that sometimes it takes two to construct an ambitious insight. This is new for me - two people struggling together to connect the ends of a tenuous bridge across a daunting chasm. Hmm.
Trains are software, stations are hardware. The trains are the moving part, and the station is the solid part - the frame of reference. Americans focus on the dynamic portion. The software. Russians concentrate on the solid ground. The hardware. That's the key cultural difference.

Effecting political change (in order to inject your creativity, your vision) is easy for an American. We simply tweak the moving part; the software, and mass attention pivots to adapt to the change. Our mindset is earnestly can-do/matter-of-fact. But for Russians to effect meaningful change, they are compelled to tweak the underlying fabric; the hardware. And changing the unchangeable requires blatant disregard for what's plainly true.

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