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We Preserve Heritage
Jared Paul Hefti (USA)
|When a colleague of mentor quality came to me and asked me to write for him several pages which would be submitted for publication, I was excited to be presented with such an opportunity, but I was also hesitant, wanting further clarification that such an offer was true. You see, I have come to find misunderstandings common place in this Russian world where I do not speak the native language. No matter what is your native language, Russian or English, perhaps you can empathize? It seems that the longer I live here in Russia the lonelier I become. And I have friends! I have the best woman in the world at my side. I have the most intelligent, loyal, and rounded colleagues a man can ask for. These are good people. But the "problem," or challenge of human relations, is something much deeper because two facts will forever remain true – we will always be speaking a foreign language, and, we will forever be people grown in different "worlds." For example, a person I am speaking with may know well the technical structure and grammar of my native language of English, and I may clearly annunciate my words and consciously be sure to use "standardized" and "universal" vocabulary, but looking back at my 10 months in Russia teaching and traveling, and despite that I at one time considered myself a "good communicator," I have often found some secret ingredient of my communications here in Russia lacking that elusive magical chemistry where intimate bonding occurs when two people are able to truly empathize with each other; really understand the feelings, the emotions, the meaning of the other's mind...where they meet together on that psychological plane where more than only language is spoken.
If you would have told me one year ago that what I would miss most from America was feeling understood and accepted, and having companionship with intelligent people, I would have stared at you for some time and then probably laughed. You see, I love my America, I love my family, and I love liberty and republican democracy. I value our free market in America which has produced over 4 million millionaires within the private sector of our economy. I like our hard working, determined, and sometimes-pissed-off-yet-diplomatic American spirit which "casts off" governments who fail at their job. I like fast cars, cheap quality clothing, and I especially like expensive, private universities and hospitals where I can get a good, accurate education and receive the best health care possible worldwide. I love America, but I also had grand visions of traveling to Russia where I believed the affects of materialism and consumerism had not yet taken control, and I wanted to learn most of all how Russians, and all people around the world, see America; from what perspectives and perceptions is America presented to the world by the mass media. I had studied the culture and society of Russia for many years and expected my traditional, conservative values to mix well with the family orientated mentalities of Russia. And what I studied fell far short of the wonderful reality I found here. My expectations were accurate of the people and the culture here – family is the center of life, the mainstream diet is generally healthy and organic, life is more simple and attention to the details of life seems to be the norm, and despite a wave of American and European cultural influences over the past 20 years, I have found that Russian people are authentic, honest, traditional in values, strong in will, loyal to family bonds, and industrious to the maximum...but I had underestimated the role native language plays in developing deep, meaningful relationships. I assumed that I could span my language divide with a bridge of alternative communication skills supplied with a spirit of compassion, interest, and attraction to a new world. Now please understand that I HAVE witnessed the power of those alternative communication skills, such as effective body language, tones of voice, expressions of interest, and the use of translation materials, but not seeing the world from the perspective of the Russian language has grown inside of me a more serious respect for learning the living, breathing organism of human relations called "native language."
Yes, I have learned much about the challenges of communication in a world where I do not speak the language; yes, for many years of my life I took for granted the gift of naturally understanding, empathizing, even bonding with the people around me in my native world of America. And though creating meaning bonds through effective communication is one of humanity's greatest powers, for me personally, I did not come to Russia only to find new friends and enjoy the fruits of meaningful relationships. I also came here because of the burning desire I felt for years to "give something back"; to serve in someway humanity as a whole with whatever talents I have, and thus I hoped to find a welcome calling teaching English in a distant Russian land, and I have found most of the people here welcoming me with open arms, but I have found other mentalities too. I have encountered resentment of my American nationality; drastic deceptions about America planted by corrupt mass media sources with agendas; animosity toward new or different mentalities; and most serious because of the detrimental affects upon the development of a society, I have met some people who resent me because of my privileged heritage, my greater material wealth (which is, unfortunately, a blatent misperception), and my simple alien nature.
Being unwanted upon a personal level is something I can understand, adjust to, and hopefully help by reacting with compassion, patience, and respect (not an easy task I must say), but there is another obstacle standing in the way of a foreigner's life in Russia, and I should add a much more complicated, serious, and intimidating obstacle – that of the government, and the Office of Migration to be more precise. I recently read an article online discussing how "Russia has long been known for being the land of bureaucracy, but lately red tape has taken on a whole new meaning for foreign workers...Most foreign workers accept that they have a daunting task to obtain a visa and maintain their legal status in Russia..." and this in all very true, including the seeming endless steps to register ourselves with the Migration Service once we have actually secured a VISA. The article continue, "Moscow-based political analyst Mascha Lipman of the Carnegie Center, says she thinks the recent enforcement of the obscure law is just the government's way of making it difficult for foreign workers to stay in Russia," and she was quoted as saying, "These recent hurdles have to do with historic, traditional Russian xenophobia. Suspicion of people, from abroad, coming to Russia doing something in Russia. This has to do with the Soviet experience. This was a closed country in which people could not leave or come freely." German Robert Zellner, who works for a hotel in Moscow also agreed with Lipman when he described how he is regularly reminded by people of how his Russian boss prefers to work with fellow countrymen, "I cannot tell you how many times I have been told that Russia is for Russians and that we are taking their jobs. They do not really want us." And although it may be true that "President Dmitry Medvedev recently encouraged authorities to be more hospitable to foreign workers, and hinted at easing visa regulations within the next year," I would still like to respond to this issue by explaining further why I am here in Russia.
I am concerned that Russians might have the wrong impression about me, and possibly other foreigners. Though it may be true of other foreigners here in Russia that they desire to stay and live here and somehow change, adapt, or alter authentic Russian heritage, I certainly do not. In my opinion, Russia's need for good teachers, within all fields of study, who can plant the seeds of moral truths and wise principles into the minds of the young people, is far more important than worrying about those same foreign teachers effecting changes against the heritage of the local Russian culture. And how many of us foreign professionals are there actually living here "taking Russian jobs"? Trusted sources are hard to find, but I have lived in two major cities of Russia, and in each I never once met even an American tourist, and especially not another foreign English teacher, though I was told of at least one other living in the city. I know the number is higher of foreign businessmen in the cities, but they mostly bring a lot of foreign dollars to Russia, and again, having lived in Russia for 6 months and never actually met another hard working foreign professional who is "taking Russian jobs", the open and patient questions must be asked by me: Is this really a problem? Why are we not welcome here? Are we really "taking" Russian jobs from Russians as some people may complain? Does our presence here, even though probably quite insignificant, even influence the Russian job market...economy...heritage?
For months I have planned to write to a Russian newspaper or other publications hoping to begin sharing two messages: First, to clarify why I have come to Russia, which leads to the second, to be an extension of what America was originally intended to stand for: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness through the responsible management of a nation's government BY "the people." I feel these ancient principles are in danger of being forgotten by the majority of people around the world, in America, Russia, or any country. About the first message, I am not here to make money. I am not here to steal a woman and run away. I am here, or anywhere in this world, to be a good influence within the community in which I live. I am here to love people, to teach the youth truth and hopefully wisdom by shaing the understanding of other worlds outside of Russia through the teaching of what one classic author has named, "the single greatest power possessed by humanity" – the skills of communication. And in addition to body language, emotional expression, and "spiritual" communications, my primary focus is teaching how to use the English language effectively, naturally, and with intelligence.
This is the formal reason why I am here in Russia, but my greatest personal passion is somewhat more complicated as I explained above: Supporting life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness by trying to give an accurate, realistic instruction, or correction, to a young generation lost among the unreal, mythical fantasies that life is perfect, easy, and wonderful under a materialistic consumption centered existence in America. And not with haste and impulsive intentions do I pursue my mission, but with the revelation that washed over me as I read the online article quoted above.
I have a message that good Russians need to know: that I, and likely most "visiting" American workers, seek not to "Americanize" Russia, but rather in direct contrast to any idea of "changing Russia" we, I, FIRST and always desire to experience and understand and know Russian culture and heritage, encourage it, preserve it, and even fight for it's founding principles and values. Surely those passions for Russia are no reason to expel us from your nation? Most of us teachers and businessmen stay for months or maybe a year or two at the most, teaching English as a native speaker, offering valuable insights and teaching to a generation of youth already believing the serious lies that self-centered satisfaction will lead to ultimate happiness.
And when you are drawing your judgments about foreigners in your country, I hope that you will also consider that there is a lack of willing, passionate American English teachers to come and share the truth about life in America? May I also invite you to consider that I have a solid understanding about those two possibly fatal infections of Materialism and Consumerism now existing inside the body of the once great, once well engineered Capitalist economy of America? And considering these things, perhaps my presence standing at the front of Russian classrooms could be imperative for the preservation of that Russian culture which you may be worried about losing because of the contaminating existence of foreign workers within your culture. But mark my words, it will not be the small stream of foreign professions breaching your borders which will cause the erosion of Russian heritage, but rather if you leave your children alone in this society to discover other, even destructive foreign influences through popular films, music, and fashions, and if children are neglected the teaching of the virtues of intelligent study, temperate consumption, sexual purity, sacrificial love, honest communication, and holy worship of God, then in some years there may not even be a society worth losing to foreigners. It is the foreign businessmen and teachers who come to your nation who bring potentially great opportunities for the Russian students to learn the truth about the harmful consequences of valuing money over time, possessions over people, and personal pleasure over personal discipline. That is what I bring to Russian classrooms - care for the young and innocent souls which are being targeted by free market capitalism seeking to capture them under the addictive habits of Consumerism. It is when family members begin to become distracted by this new and busy force around them called commercial Capitalism, and especially if the distractions become an obsession with possession, that the tangible erosions will begin to eat away the sovereignty of the family unit, the society's value system, and the people's life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness. And make no mistake – the preceding steps which lead to the erosion seem small and relatively not important under the exciting events of new clothing, new cars, weekends at the cinema, and a flood technological devices from I-pods to cell phones to mp3 players. And as history has proven time and again, a society rarely even sees what they have become before it is too late and the people have grown only to satisfy their own creature comforts – before greed took control.
I believe I am safe in saying that we foreigners want Russia preserved as much as Russians do! Sure, most other Americans and or people from some nations in this world do not see Mother Russia as we do...and this is why I write to you, to sound the clear statement of what we believe, of WHO we are, and what are our motivations or intentions are for living in Russia. Most important my Russian friends...we respect Russia, it's heritage, it's history, it's military power, it's family values, it's peaceful cities, it's richness of culture, it's value of village life and nature, it's people, and most of all, I respect in humble observation your nation's instinctual resisting of any foreign influence which could endanger the preservation of the ancient and natural law principles which have defined what you call "Russian heritage."
For me, and for many other good businessmen, our motivation is grown from a personal character valuing the virtue of integrity; from beliefs in love, justice, wisdom, and including a deeply rooted disposition against the corruption eating our America. I have spent many years working against power hungry left-winged, liberal minded, progressive men who are working toward political objectives founded upon greed, power, and control, whose political ambitions which are in direct contrast to what was once America's universally accepted beliefs that political parties are always a necessary evil, that government should be continually cut, trimmed, limited, and bound by the people, that education begins in the home, and that within a unified nation under God can exist an individually responsible, private, self sustained citizenry. And this foundation of natural law principles was more than only nice "social values," for, once upon a time in the distant past, they flowed in the blood of the people and lived in their hearts. 200 years ago in America there existed a disciplined society of people who found that the deep, content happiness of a man's heart can not be achieved through material wealth, lustful indulgences, or other selfish ambitions of the human heart (and absolutely they could have had those satisfactions if they had wanted among the high classes of the British Empire)...but rather the generation of America's Founding Fathers lived on the land hard lives involving great pain and loss; they fought in wars; they studied with artistic diligence, and they also naturally laughed, loved, and built their dreams from the raw materials of a North America recently vacated by the British. And how interesting isn't it, that in our modern American the great pain and loss characteristic of so many diligent industrious societies has been purged in modern times, but with what consequence? I think C.S. Lewis in his book "The Problem of Pain" has identified a terrible paradox of human nature that we all so quickly forget – that pain keeps us humble, sober, and ever dare I say, happy. And remember that perhaps the happiness people of Russia profess not to have because of the limitations here, may not be a "stealing" of happiness by a corrupt government, or a disabled education system, or any other domestic problem which anyways ALL societies face, but rather the absence of a sensible satisfaction, a happy attitude, a joy of simply having life, may be stolen away, or even drowned out, by people and especially the young people looking "over the fence" and seeing "greener grass" beyond their Russia. But it is only a misperception. Only a constant broadcast of images of a fantastic and perfect world distracting the minds of the youth. Sure other places may be easier to live and more comfortable, but they are less painful too. So what are the consequences of an easy world offering greater opportunity? Good and bad of course. Life in Russia is stark, unveiled, hard and real, but it must be understood that with comfort and opportunity come new challenges of maintaining within our hearts the virtues of discipline, intelligence, and family bonds which a more painful existence demands. Reading Lewis's book can help us to appreciate the great value of...pain. And young people of Russia, be careful what you read and watch and hear, much of which IS NOT what it appears to be. And parents present and future, myself included – our children and the people who use our world following us CAN have a better world than us, not less painful, but less corrupt and cruel. It is our life responsibility under God and by His laws under which there are penalties, to teach our children first before others do. What is a first step for all of us to having more comfort and happiness this day? Appreciating what we have this day.
Is the mass media of Russia showing the truth about America? That the majority of the wealthy people, about 80%, value above all else the inborn instincts and designed human needs of love, forgiveness, justice, courage, individual responsibility, and perseverance...is this what the children are reading, watching, and hearing? Sexy magazine models, cool movie stars, juicy Hollywood gossip, sex, drugs, and rock'n roll must be clearly seen for what it is: only silly and nothing more, and those things are absolutely not, never have been, and never will be, America. Literally, the happy, free, and normal Americans live in modest homes in quiet places, they like their work, they study hard, and they spend most of their time building their family relationships. It's the truth. They are the rich. They are Americans. Most don't fill their lives with technologies, or latest fashions, or lavish styles, but they fill their lives with peace and quiet...with study, prayer, and service...with personal, private hobbies, and with their families. This is why I am here in Russia: To build communication skills, to be a supporter of liberty and freedom, to be a student myself learning the heritage and history of Russia, and perhaps now becoming most important to me, I am here to be a force against all corruption, especially any wrong, divisive, fearful, or fantastic images of America or it's people as portrayed by the world's mass media
1 http://www.voanews.com/english/ news/europe/Russian-Law-Making-Foreign-Workers-Feel-Unwanted-86919712.html