Cultural code: three qualities of post-Soviet immigrants that Americans aspire to
People with experience of living in the United States can easily list things that Russian-speaking immigrants could learn from Americans. These include constant politeness towards strangers, diligence bordering on workaholism, optimism, efficiency, and so on. However, over time, it can be seen that the Americans themselves are trying to develop traits and values that are taken for granted for the inhabitants of the post-Soviet space. There are at least three qualities inherent in our immigrants, the formation of which US residents are beginning to strive today.
This is not about formal friendliness, but about deep human relationships: disinterested friendship, altruism, mutual assistance and even self-sacrifice. You will be surprised, but these are the qualities that modern American psychology identifies as a necessary attribute for achieving happiness.
The fact is that in recent years, American psychologists are anxious note the growth of the atomization of society, which even the culture of volunteering and charity that is familiar to Americans could not resist. In 2019, The Nation newspaper noted that suicides have turned into a real epidemic in America, and according to sociological research, their number increased by a quarter over the past 15 years. At the same time, scientists note that this trend is largely due not so much to economic as to social reasons.
In contrast to these tendencies, a new ethic began to form in American universities, proclaiming the basis of a happy life for an individual and society, sympathy, altruism, gratitude, and the like. Scientists at the University of California at Berkeley have taken seriously the development of a full-fledged scientific theory about what can make a person happy. As a result, they created a new training course "The Science of Happiness", the main postulates of which are now adopted by the main schools of American psychology.
The founders of the course advocate the dead end of the path of "social Darwinism" and with the help of scientific evidence prove that attachment, empathy and active compassion give rise to the most important hormones in the human body that increase the level of happiness - oxytocin and "pleasure hormone" dopamine, which, oddly enough, arises not only from sensual pleasures, but also, for example, as a "reward" for doing good deeds.
Moreover, scientists assure that happiness should not be reduced to the pursuit of pleasure and concentration only on pleasant emotions. Unlike the previous, more familiar to us concept of "positive psychology", today American psychologists urge to fully experience the entire spectrum of feelings, including sadness, and introduce the concept of "altruistic happiness", in which the pursuit of important life-meaning goals, even limiting the possibility of receiving pleasure in the present, makes life more fulfilling and happy in the long term.
It may seem funny to people who grew up on the territory of the former USSR how respectable scientists spend hours proving to adult students that happiness is not limited to the pursuit of material goods, and impressions and emotions bring more joy than acquiring things. Several sessions of the course, for example, are devoted to "debunking stereotypes versus gratitude", during which the benefits of the ability to thank is proved by examples of the theory of evolution, sociological research, psychological experiments, biochemical processes, and so on. At the same time, many postulates of the course are for us axioms known from childhood, which, however, are considered by many to be “outdated” and “impractical” today. However, it is obvious that the Americans themselves today admit that qualities that are traditionally considered an attribute of "Russian" culture can make a person happier.
However, Russian-speaking immigrants also have a lot to learn from the course. how psychologists say, for the most part, people from the post-Soviet space do not know how to please themselves and enjoy life. Accustomed to surviving in extreme circumstances, many Russians do not allow themselves to live all their feelings, forbid themselves to show weakness, enjoy the fruits of their achievements, or simply slow down, turning life into a race from one goal to another. However, the authors of the course note that the ability to slow down, admire the surrounding beauty, have fun, relax, meditate and experience sadness and awe are just as important to achieving happiness as relationships with other people.
2. Visionary pragmatism
It is generally accepted that Americans are businesslike and pragmatic, while Russians are naive, reflective, and lacking in business acumen. However, recent decades have formed their own business culture in the post-Soviet space, which, with all its costs and radical manifestations such as cruelty and banditry, has retained some very sane elements. In particular, for immigrants from the post-Soviet space, for the most part, human relations are important, even when it is not about altruism and friendship.
Business relationships in our environment are perceived as a valuable asset, and business and informal - as even more valuable. In Russian culture, it is considered completely normal to invest effort and money in this asset in the long term, even when there are no guarantees of return on investment. This includes, for example, helping and promoting young people and the very attitude that "talents need to be helped, mediocrity will break through on their own." At the same time, it is really customary in the post-Soviet space to help talented people if they are not your direct competitors, and even more so if they do not threaten to become such in the future. In our culture, working relationships can easily develop into informal ones, and vice versa, and most importantly, friendship and partnership between people of different social statuses and weight categories is quite possible.
In today's America, unfortunately, the era of long-term pragmatism is becoming a thing of the past. Of course, in small towns there is still the importance of business reputation and relationships with other people, and small shops have loved and known their regular customers for decades. But in the world of "big business" in megacities, it is increasingly difficult to find examples of such relationships. Americans are less and less counting on the long term, trying to squeeze the maximum out of a person “here and now” and not caring about tomorrow. Relations with others in their understanding is a rather amorphous thing, unreliable, and most importantly, not amenable to complete control on their part. That is why you can often see examples of how even valuable connections break down due to momentary profit, or even someone's whim.
The simple formula: “invest a little more in a person today so that you can use his labor for a longer time” is not at all obvious to many in America today. The turnover of personnel in large companies is enormous, competition often arises even between people working in the same team on the implementation of one common task, and it is not customary to be friends with colleagues at work. Of course, informal relations between employees can still arise, but corporate rules will always stand above them. At the same time, equal friendship between colleagues of different social levels is practically excluded. By the way, one of the tenets of the already mentioned "Science of Happiness" is the priority of cooperation over rivalry, and sociologists are worried about the growth of toxicity in the atmosphere of American companies. But the calls of scientists for many still remain only a voice crying in the wilderness.
On the other hand, immigrants from the post-Soviet space, appreciating relationships as such, often neglect such "trifles" as courtesy, tact, attention to a person in some small matters, respect for his borders, and elementary politeness. However, the quality of the relationship and the very possibility of their continuation can often depend on them.
Despite the fact that Americans officially rely on diversity and freedom of expression, in practice it is more about ethnic diversity and external attributes. The United States has a highly developed bureaucracy, and many aspects of life and work are subject to strict procedures. At the same time, Americans for the most part are very law-abiding, and prefer to follow the rules. The reason for this lies not only in respect for the law, but also in the elementary instinct of self-preservation. In a situation of constant conflict of interests and the habit of resolving complex issues in the courts, following the procedure can seriously protect against "set-ups" by counterparties and lengthy litigation. The procedure creates a universal mechanism for resolving conflicts and organizing complex processes, and following it is a good way to avoid personal responsibility.
However, the habit of not getting out of the "conveyor" of the bureaucracy in any way leads to the fact that any initiative is perceived as "punishable", and non-standardness is frightening and repulsive. In the post-Soviet tradition, this attitude is typical for the most part of officials who are really "afraid to stick their heads out." However, in the private sphere, resourcefulness, enterprise and the ability to find non-standard solutions without looking at the rules are traditionally appreciated.
In America, "Russian ingenuity", on the other hand, is capable of scaring off too "correct" Americans. More than once I had to deal with the fact that any unusual personal history, life choices and even talents frighten local residents. The descendants of those who were once possessed by the rebellious spirit of moving towards the dream and creating the impossible are today too afraid to go beyond the numerous stereotypes, which kills the very possibility of a creative breakthrough.
On the other hand, the chaotic style of work of the post-Soviet countries leads to a lack of simple, understandable and equal mechanisms for all, with the help of which people can find work, receive the necessary services from the state and protect their rights. The “golden mean” between procedure and creativity, it seems, has not yet been worked out in any society, but excesses in one direction or another clearly do not make life easier for ordinary people.
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