Understanding the “Mysterious Russian Soul”

The Russian Country Community

It was the Russian country community that played the major role in the history of Russia and development of it’s culture. Thus,to a large extent the significance of Russian values are the very thread that runs through the entire Russian community that binds them together.

Interests of Community

The community itself, being the basis and prerequisite of existence supersedes the individual and is code that is anciently embedded in the culture. The individual is of major value only to extent that he or she serves the community. Sacrifice is the bedrock and each person is expected to give everything, even one’s life, for the sake of the community. Russia history is a long and tumultuous one constantly living on the fringes of war, famine, enslavement or much worse. It was because of these sacrifices, the submission of individual interests that served the community that kept it’s people free and independent of foreign subjugation.

Though western culture has influenced Russia it still puts community interests above personal interest. An Individual’s plans, purposes and interests are thus easily suppressed. In return the Russian person counts on “the world” to support him/her. I’ve experienced this first hand traveling with my wife. The Russian communistic thinking is that adversities, the rubs and worries of life are not faced alone but with the community. So in many ways it becomes a sort of joint responsibility. As a result the Russian person can comply with putting aside one’s private matters for the sake of a common goal, which may result to the individual’s immediate benefit. It is based on an almost subconscious belief that conditions of social unity are more important than personal things. They should be worked on and treated first, and then this common “wellbeing” will start working to the advantage of the person. This deep rooted conciliar-mindedness exists to connect Russian people to their community on a smaller scale and the whole of society on a larger scale. The symbiotic relationship between the individual and society is rewarded by warmth, attention and support to both. To become a personality, the Russian individual is to become a conciliar personality.

Truth and Justice

Justice is another important value of Russian culture that is crucial for life in society. Initially it was understood as social equality of people and was based on economic equality of men regarding the land. This value is instrumental, but it became a target in the Russian community. Members of a community had the right to an equal share of land and all its riches that the “world” owned. Such justice was also the Truth, for the sake of which Russian people lived and aspired for. In the famous dispute of the Truth and Justice it is the latter that wins. The Russian person cares not so much about how it was or is in actual practice, but how it ought to be. Thoughts and acts of people were assessed and interpreted from the point of view of eternal truths, which were truths of justice for Russia. They are what matters; otherwise no results and no advantages will be able to absolve them. At the same time, it is not a big problem if a project did not work out; after all the purpose was virtuous.

Absence of Individual Freedom

Absence of individual freedom was determined by the fact that in the Russian community with its equal land plots, which were periodically repartitioned it was just impossible for individualism to show up. A person was not the land owner, had no right to sell it, and was not free even in terms of crops and harvests, or the choice of what to plant on this land. In such conditions one could not possibly manifest individual skills.

The habit of emergent mass

The habit of emergent mass activity (like in harvesting campaign) was brought up by the same absence of individual freedom. Hard work and festive spirit were oddly combined here. Probably, the festive atmosphere was a peculiar compensation that made it easier to handle hard work and give up personal freedom in economic activity.

The wealth could not become a value

The wealth could not become a value under the condition of domineering of the idea of equality and justice. No wonder that the well-known Russian proverb says: honor and profit lie not in one sack. Striving for capitalizing was considered as a sin. Thus, in the Russian northern village they respected the dealers who were artificially putting brakes on trading volume.

Labor as such was neither a value of crucial importance in Russia (as compared to Protestant countries, for example). Certainly, work was never rejected and its usefulness just could not be overlooked, but it was not considered the means that automatically provided implementation of a person’s mission. Therefore work takes a subordinated place in the system of Russian values: “The work will still be there”.

Way of life not geared to work gave the freedom of spirit (partly illusory, though) to the Russian person. It always stimulated human creativity. It could not be expressed in constant laborious work aimed at wealth accumulation, but was easily transformed to eccentricity or surprising inventions (such as wings, a wooden bicycle, a perpetual motion machine and so forth), i.e. the actions which did not make much sense for economy. On the contrary, economy was often subordinated to this inventive idea.

The respect of the community could not be deserved by simply becoming rich. It was only a feat, sacrificing oneself for the sake of common good that could bring glory.

Patience and suffering for the sake of community

Patience and suffering for the sake of community (but not personal heroism) is another value of the Russian culture. In other words, the purpose of a feat could not be personal: it always had to be beyond the person. Well-known is the Russian proverb: “God suffered and to us ordered”. It is not a coincidence that the first canonized Russians princes Boris and Gleb became saints; they became martyrs but did not resist their brother, prince Svyatopolk who wanted to kill them. Dying for the Homeland brought undying glory to the hero. Interestingly, medals in imperial Russia bore inscriptions: “Not to us, not to us, but to Thy name”.

Patience and suffering are the major basic values for the Russian person. They stand along with consecutive abstention, self-restriction, and continuous sacrifice in favor of other people. Without it there is no person, and there is neither status nor respect of people around. Hence is the Russian persons’ age long inclination to suffer — that comes from the desire of self-actualization, attaining inner freedom necessary for bonifying and cultivating kindness. After all, the world exists and moves on with the help of sacrificing, patience, and self-restriction. Here lies the secret of forbearance peculiar to the Russian person, who can bear a lot (especially material challenges) if one knows, why it is needed.

Tendency to Some Higher, Transcendental Sense

(Immortal Regiment)

Values of the Russian culture constantly indicate its tendency to some higher, transcendental sense. There is nothing more exciting for the Russian person than search of this higher meaning. For the sake of it some individuals can even leave home and family and become hermits or God’s fools, who were esteemed in Russia.

Russian culture as a whole finds such sense in the Russian idea, to implementation of which the Russian person directs one’s way of life. Therefore researchers speak about traits of religious fundamentalism inherent in consciousness of the Russians. The idea could be changing (the idea of Moscow as the third Rome, the imperial, communistic, Euroasian ideas, etc.), but its place in the value-belief structure remained invariable. The crisis Russia is enduring nowadays is in many respects related to the fact that the people have lost the idea uniting them, and it is not clear for the sake of which we have to suffer and be patient. Thus, finding a new fundamental idea would be an efficient way for Russia to overcome the crisis.

The values listed above are inconsistent.

(Mysterious Russian soul)

The values listed above are inconsistent. Therefore the Russian person could be a man of courage in the battlefield and at the same time a coward in civil life, could be personally devoted to the sovereign and at the same time plunder imperial treasury (like Prince Menshikov did during the reign of Peter the First), or could even leave the house behind and go to war to release the Balkan Slavs. High patriotism and mercy were manifested as sacrifice or benefaction (but it quite could as well turn into positive harm). So these peculiarities, obviously, made all researchers speak about the “mysterious Russian soul”, greatheartedness, broadness of the Russian character, and that “it is impossible to grasp Russia with the reasoning mind”.

23 thoughts on “Understanding the “Mysterious Russian Soul”

    1. I know, see we went through what you are going to go through if you’re not careful. It’s part of the reason I put this post together. But we shall see, Americans are very individualistic and self centered so the results might be very different. Don’t mean to offend but it’s the truth as well.

      1. Don’t know enough about Canada, but from my experiences there I found the Canadians to be very warm and hospitable. I was in Prince George a number of years ago and had a blast.

  1. It odd how the themes of gravity, dignity, and long-suffering come through in the tone of this post. This is quite a remarkable look at a culture so foreign to (and misunderstood by) the American soul.

    1. One of the reasons I put it together. Russians are remarkable people in many ways. Think there’s something in there for Americans to learn don’t you think?

  2. The part that was most confusing to me is where you said that the above values were inconsistent. They seemed consistent enough to me, overlapping values of community being of both superior and mutual importance.

    1. This is the dichotomy of which is unfathomable to most people. I’ll try to explain it in a different way. The reality is that at times Russians live very much in their natural state but are very connected to their spiritual selves as well. At times one will dictate and others the other will. The main thing is to never truly anger a Russian. At that point they can be the most brutal people on Earth. This can be seen from what happened during WWII. The Germans started the war with Russia, but the Russians finished it. Don’t let anybody fool you the Russians won WWII, the allied forces supported them and made it possible. Russians will protect their country, their land, their people like none I’ve ever meet.

  3. great read! It was clear when I was there that communities and society had a clear structure even back in Tzarist times, that the rich were responsible for others. So many people have little community plots of land for growing vegetables and fruit as well. I suppose it’s about order that has been influenced by the shear size of the country.

  4. I do not recall Russian leaders saying they won WW II. It was President J F Kennedy who said “no nation in the history of battle ever suffered more than the Soviet Union suffered in the course of the Second World War”. He offered respect for the sacrifices made by the people of Russia. A respect lost in today’s world of sanctions and conflict. An excellent book by Pete Dolack – “It’s Not Over” goes into great detail of the 1917 revolution in Russia. In the west it is taught as though everyone marched onto the streets one day in October. The author wipes away that concept within the first chapter.

    There is a BRICS economic forum is happening this weekend. The concept began in Russia in 2005 with China, India, Brazil and South Africa and now 30 more countries. It takes the basic concept of the UN principles created after WW II with a twist. One nation cannot dictate nor use a veto because the veto does not exist within BRICS. For me it confirms what many already know. Russians are wonderful friends to those who offer respect and friendship otherwise you have an uncanny foe.

      1. As a Canadian we developed a generosity and concern for world events. As the late PM Pierre E. Trudeau said “one must be careful sleeping in bed with an elephant” referring to our southern neighbor the US. As a people we have more in common with Russians since we are able to live through the long winter season. I was sitting the room when President Putin smiled and said “we are surprised when the first snow falls as though we had never seen it before…”. Our relationship with Russia was one of a friend until our recent two Prime Minister’s began following the US with the sanctions. It was done without the approval of the Canadian people as are all con jobs.

      2. The US government (not the people) is alienating itself from the rest of the world. Russia isn’t the enemy! In all honesty I see it as being the opposite now, Russia is more democratic and free than America.

  5. “The US government (not the people) is alienating itself from the rest of the world. Russia isn’t the enemy! In all honesty I see it as being the opposite now, Russia is more democratic and free than America.” So very true. thank you for the post.

    1. It’s like to planets passing each other going opposite directions. We are reaching the point of divergence and the separation is going to be cataclysmic in nature. What I’m interested in seeing is what happens in the aftermath.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s