On Culture Perception

Every nation has its heroes and famous people that it thinks everyone in other countries should certainly know, too. Yet, when we ask foreigners who of our famous and great people they have heard about, we often get unexpected answers. For instance, some Chinese people, even those really keen on Russian culture, by the way, know nothing about Vladimir Vysotskiy, Russians when asked about British writers usually remember Arthur Conan Doyle and few people name Jane Austen. Why is this perception of famous people and their contribution so different? I see various reasons for this.

As a person who studies international relations, I cannot leave this sphere unobserved, because what we think of the greatest people representing other nations to us is one of the most important aspects of INTERNATIONAL relations, of our opinion on each other and therefore – basis for cooperation of people. International relations are crucial for our perception of other nations. As I have mentioned Vysotskiy and China, let me tell the whole story. Vysotskiy was most famous in the 1970s, when relations between The Soviet Union and China were not really warm and friendly. After the so-called “period of small steps” in the 1980s our relations have become better, but Vysotskiy died in 1980 and Chinese people haven’t heard his songs. At the same time they know Alla Pugacheva very well.

Another important thing is national character. Can you remember a fairytale written by Astrid Lindgren? Every Russian child will immediately say: “Karlson Who Lives On The Roof!” European children, including those Swedish, will – I am sure, because I asked this question – say: “Of course, it’s the one about Pippi Longstocking”. Look at these two characters and you’ll see that Karlson is an embodiment of… Russian character and Russian soul. If you don’t believe me – come and visit Russia. European children don’t consider Karlson funny and he’s not a character they would like to have among their friends. One more example is popularity of Tolstoy and Dostoyevskiy in Europe. These two writers are among most respected in Russia, but in Italy, for example, they are taken in a different way. They are considered “psychological” writers.

Finally, we shouldn’t forget about problems of translation. It is almost impossible to translate Pushkin into German or Japanese. Translators can express the sense and mood, but it’s, unfortunately, impossible to show every unusual shade of every word used. It is almost impossible to translate Japanese three-line poems into other languages… As I am keen on translation matters and as translation matters for me, I’ll write a separate post about foreign books and how they were/are translated, where I’ll mention both brilliant and failed translations.

Well, that’s about all. Comment on how YOU perceive famous foreigners and characters 🙂

On Productivity Gurus

You probably know well about this recent “productivity” trend. Increasing your performance at work or university, using modern gadgetry and scientific (or kind of scientific) methods of time evaluation, keeping track on your sleep etc. Making to-do lists, seeking for “motivation” or “inspiration” has become an important part of some people’s life.

However, quite often these people don’t know where to start or how to accomplish the goal of becoming self-productive, so they turn to “productivity gurus” – quite popular YouTube bloggers, book authors, seminar leaders, etc. Here you must be cautious and quite aware of the concept itself. So in order to get it better some tips on how to deal with these gurus’ thoughts.

  1. Be aware of advertisement. Both personal and commercial. If a guru you’ve chosen speaks too much about himself and his accomplishments or about the goods and commodities that will help you become “more effective” just don’t listen to him. When a guru speaks more about himself and his path to success the probability then is quite high that his real goal is not helping you but pleasing his ego. And if a guru is talking too much about various goods, makes “unboxing video” and insists on you buying a particular set of things – don’t trust him either – believe me, you can become productive even with an old laptop (not a top-notch MacBook Air) and you grandpa’s notebook (not this super-developed-especially-for-productivity-goals Japanese stuff). Don’t allow these people to achieve success at your expense, your psychology and self-perception is all that really matters.
  2. Don’t become too enthusiastic and engulfed by guru’s advice. Some people are keen on breaking their usual habits in order to apply the guru’s advice. Don’t rush to do as the guru does. After all, quite often it’s successful middle-class people who are usually into this “self-help” stuff, so instead of tinkering what already works well it would be much more benefitial to apply guru’s recommendations selectively or not apply them at all. After all, much of these advice is often too primitive.
  3. Be cautious with “motivation” and “meditation” stuff as this may produce unpredictable effect. Probably that’s the place where modern productivity cult mingles with Eastern practices (especially Zen-Buddhist as Japan’s corporations are keen on productivity as well). Just identify these subtle invasions of your life values and your psyche and stay alert. Again, remember, people are effective in various ways and are sure to have a unique way of being effective, so any involvement of some Eastern mysticism sounds suspicious.
  4. Don’t be too overwhelmed with gadgets. Again, you may use them as you like. Don’t rush to install all these endless productivity apps. The important thing to remember – the main criterion for this is whether you really need these apps or not. Try for a week or so and if you notice you don’t use them – delete them. No shame here – your personal success doesn’t depend solely on modern gadgets, which are designed to really help and work as you like.
  5. Remember that productivity is individual and that if a guru’s system doesn’t work in your case it’s more often guru’s problem, not yours for the simple reason that it’s impossible to create a universal productivity system or approach – if the author claims so, than be alert – something is not quite good as it may seem.
  6. Stick to the essence not looks or designs. Quite often, especially on YouTube and especially in case of middle-class affluent and overachieving girls you may notice that gurus tend to spend quite a lot of time designing their to-do lists or preparing notes with colours, pictures, various hand-written scripts, etc. Don’t try to copy that. Think more about the essence of the advice. Everything may look beautiful and sensible to the outsider but think twice whether spending plenty of time making a common lecture notebook look like a piece of art really worth it. Some gurus understand “productivity” as buying cool stuff, using Mac laptop and tinkering much with papers and colour pencils. Well, often it’s not.

And please remember that it’s your life after all and you design yourself.