Stiff upper lip - the Russian way

In multi-cultural society today we learn from each other; sharing ideas, admiring certain qualities and definitely adopting the best practices. We talk about resilience and the ability to move forward in spite of any difficulties on a big scale or everyday stress. I would like to share Russian coping strategies - the way we deal with hardship and keep the humour on the way.

I remember when my young daughter read Russian literature by Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, or watched movies with a similar theme such as Solaris for instance; produced by Russians and Americans, she draws the conclusion 'nobody suffers like Russians suffer'.

It was quite an amazing observation. As you are probably familiar, Russian characters are often described as soul searching, with the multiple torments the person goes through, the incredible light and the darkest corners. When Russian characters struggle, they die seven deaths and then pick themselves up and keep on going. In real life they do too…

I have dear friends (of different nationalities), with incredible personal qualities, so it is not one versus another. What I find quite peculiar is the fact that Russians do not avoid drama, they embrace it fully, go along with it and handle it in a quite heroic way. Maybe historically we never had a choice, it was always about survival; one revolution after another, wars, and hunger. We learnt from family stories, not only from the books, and if your grandmother survived in a Nazi labour camp it would be embarrassing to complain about trivial matters. Hearing stories about being lost in the Wild Taiga and finding a way out without losing self-control makes you think if one person can, you can as well.

Having said this, we do expect our values to be recognised, respected and shared, and are quite surprised when it is not the case. Hence there are so many discussions, very often and quite loud, leading to occasional fights in extreme circumstances between wild Russian men. Values are very important and if they are not met, it is betrayal, which is the worst crime. It is not customary for Russians to have a small talk, which we consider unsubstantial and a waste of time. You either discuss drama, events, or just sit silently, thinking about that drama or an event.

How do we develop and keep that robust coping strategy and achieve those amazing heights in spite of difficulties, problems, hardship, challenges and dramas?

1. First we accept that whatever happened; life goes on. So the parts in our life which work, we keep them working. Park the problem for a bit and deal with other tasks.

2. When you are facing a challenge there is always someone who has been in the same situation or even worse - remember if you had grandma who survived a Nazi labour camp. You are inadvertently becoming an observer of your own problem, taking yourself out of that pain even for a brief philosophical moment.

3. Your support from family and friends; we laugh together, we die together, and we celebrate together. It could be somebody who doesn't even talk but is just there, maybe not in the same room, but at the end of the phone listening and crying with you. The supporting people take half of the load and creates the feeling “us against the world”.

4. Whatever you are going through will end (as you know perfectly well) and at the end of it, Russians always have a celebration, real good feast with friends and delicacies. That celebration is irrelevant of the outcome; positive or negative, we celebrate life.

5. As for the stiff upper lip, complaining does not resolve anything. Just reliving experience and if you are already in that experience, there is just no point to complain.

6. As life is not always smooth sailing, everybody is expected to have some challenges, learn and gain some wisdom. “For one beaten, you can have two unbeaten ones” is the saying about your gained maturity.

7. There must be seven of these points because seven is a lucky number, and with Russian optimism and that lucky number – the greatest point of all – Russians love and have passion for life. Being mad, crazy, making mistakes and still being yourself, losing, finding it is part of life. No point to hide – live it to the full.

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