Features of national compassion: what is the difference between sympathy and mutual assistance among Russians and Americans
In Russian culture, the myth of "soulful and sacrificial" Russians and "selfish" Americans is quite popular to this day, which is as far from the truth as the opposite idea of extremely kind Americans, absorbed in volunteering and charity, and "cruel" Russians. In fact, kindness, compassion and help to one's neighbor are inherent to one degree or another in all cultures, only they manifest themselves in different ways. Let's try to compare when exactly Russians and Americans show humanity, and when, on the contrary, they turn out to be unexpectedly callous to their own kind.
1. "Systematic" kindness... Volunteering and charity in the United States is indeed better organized than in Russia. This is not only about the abundance of charitable foundations, but also about the whole “volunteering industry". There are volunteer vacancies in many organizations of a very different profile: those that require special skills or do not require them at all, collective and individual, providing for long-term work or allowing only to spend a weekend with benefit. Your volunteer work can then be read into a resume, gaining the necessary work experience in a specialty, meeting new people, or simply gaining valuable skills.
In Russia, such things are not so well developed, and help to one's neighbor is rather spontaneous. However, a systematic approach to organizing good deeds has its drawbacks. In particular, many Americans are well aware that it is necessary to help the sick, hungry, disadvantaged, victims of hurricanes and other natural disasters, and so on. At the same time, the same people who donate large sums of money to charity can show amazing callousness towards ordinary people who have not yet reached the extreme: employees of their own company, subordinates, partners, neighbors, and so on.
In Russia, empathy is less tied to social categories. A paradoxical Russian person can sometimes spare money for treating a child with cancer, but he will nobly show mercy to the worst enemy if he finds himself in a difficult situation. By the way, it is precisely such actions that the Americans consider the mysteries of the incomprehensible Russian soul.
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In terms of numbers, if we look at the numbers before the COVID-19 pandemic, they are quite high in both countries. In 2017, the level of charity in the United States reached a record figure of more than $ 400 billion. But the general trend in the United States, unfortunately, was very alarming: with From 2000 to 2014, the proportion of Americans who donated to charities fell from 66,2% to 55,5%. As for Russian statistics, in the same 2017 sociologists celebratedthat in ten years the number of benefactors has increased eightfold. However, the number of donors is still relatively low - only 32% of those surveyed respondedwho have helped others for five years.
2. "Ours" and "others"... The second follows from the first feature. Since every Russian basically decides whom he should help, without being tied to specific categories and organizations, people generally prefer to help “their own”, that is, those whom they consider “theirs”. This feature is, in principle, characteristic of post-Soviet culture, moreover, the concept of “ours” is often determined not by nationality or citizenship, but by belonging to a certain group.
A feature of Russian culture is a very serious attitude to political issues, gained through the bitter historical experience of the fact that political confrontation too often spills over into social confrontation, including wars and repressions. That is why Russians often treat people of opposite views not as compatriots, but as enemies, which is also manifested in relations in the diaspora. But in like-minded people they see truly "their own", whom they are ready to help with pleasure. It is in such relationships that the famous Russian friendship is most often manifested, sometimes reaching for sacrifice that is incomprehensible to a Western person.
In the United States, until recently, one or another moral assessment was not attributed to political views, and ideological contradictions did not develop into interpersonal enmity. However, in recent years, society has become so polarized that both sides complain about dehumanization by the opposite camp. Accordingly, sympathy for opponents in such conditions decreases sharply.
3. The boundaries of solidarity... As for solidarity with people who have become victims of law enforcement agencies, it is traditionally higher in the post-Soviet space. There is no trust in the "system" in most post-Soviet countries, its corruption is presumed, therefore more people believe that the arrested person could become a victim of repression. However, people still prefer to show solidarity with “their own” not only in terms of political views, but also of a social group: actors stand up for actors, journalists stand up for journalists, and so on.
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Similar professional and ethnic solidarity is observed in the United States, but there are still fewer people willing to oppose the law enforcement system. The exceptions are cases when such intercession falls into the general trend, as happened with the BLM (Black Lives Matter) protests. At the same time, the level of solidarity in individual national and immigrant communities is much higher than in the country as a whole.
In other cases, most Americans prefer to avoid problems with the law, and the level of trust in their own law enforcement system is higher here than in Russia. Thus, an ordinary person who, for example, has become a victim of corruption in the United States should hardly expect mass demonstrations in his support. However, these costs are offset by a real chance to defend their interests in court, and, if necessary, rely on the support of the press and human rights activists.
In general, in both Russian and American cultures, one can find many examples of both mercy and cruelty. At the same time, despite national differences, the call to be kinder to your neighbor is relevant at all times.
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