I was looking up my Myers Briggs personality type yesterday. I discovered that I share the same personality as Mao Zedong ( Dictator of Communist China) and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (President of Iran). Hmm…
After being sent into a brief identity crisis, I found myself sifting through my experience with a country that has lived under an oppressive government. Russia. I lived there right after communism fell during the early/mid 90s.
Those years were probably the most shaping years of my life. As an adult, I am constantly realizing how much communism taught me. Here are three lessons I learned:
1. You can’t make decisions for other people.
We didn’t control the heat in our building. To be honest, I’m not really sure who did. Heat just turned on one day in early fall and off in late spring. That sounds like a good thing for living in Siberia. Logical even. The hot water pipes would crank up and our radiators would soon be fiery.
But it wasn’t. It would get sweltering. We would have to open our windows to let the -25 degree air in. Yet, in another person’s house, perhaps the heat was not enough. Buildings were different. Pipes were different. Personal preferences were different.
The same was true with people’s beliefs, professions and families. You can’t make choices for people.
2. You need to ask ‘why’?
An American moving to post-communist Russia has a lot of questions. Why are your wedding dresses hot pink? Why can’t you open a window on a train until a specific date in May? Why are their so many lines? Why is everyone yelling at me?
There was a large department store called TK. It was several stories high and there were many escalators. When they worked they were escalators, otherwise they were metal stairs.
At the bottom of each escalator there would be a woman sitting in a chair. Her job was to watch the escalator. Why do you need someone to sit and watch an escalator all day? No one could answer that question. They didn’t know. The government just gave her that job. It baffled me, but they didn’t seem to question it.
My friend Olya came to visit us shortly after we moved back to the States. She had her own series of questions. Why does everyone have such big cars? Why are the supermarkets stocked with so much food and yet there are hungry people? Why don’t schools teach foreign languages in elementary school like they do in Russia? I told her that is just the way it is here.
Communism taught me that I do need to ask ‘why’.
3. In the end, we are all just people.
For decades, Russians were our enemy. They were portrayed as cold and heartless. But they aren’t. Russian culture is warm when you get down to it. They will feed you all the food they have if you come over for a meal and spend hours listening to your story over tea.
One of the greatest privileges I have had is to see the world. I have had walked the streets of Syria, the villages of Sudan, the busy shopping districts in Beijing and the romantic streets of Paris to name a few.
People are people. They all want to love and be loved. Mothers all of the world rock their babies to sleep. Men carry the daily stress of providing for their families. Teenagers dream of falling in love. Teachers give so much in order to educate a generation. Doctors work effortlessly to bring health to their communities.
People are passionate. We speak different languages, live in different environments and believe in different faiths.
Communism was hard on the people of Russia. But they lived through it.
Communism taught me that people are the same everywhere. Made in the image of God and longing for value.
So, when you read the news about North Korea or Iran, remember that a government isn’t a culture or a people. Remember that behind a headline there are the true stories. Individuals similar to you.
As you probably know, communism didn’t turn out to well around the world. Lets learn from it. Lets not be arrogant in our opinions about what is best for people, or forget to ask ‘why’. Most of all, lets remember that we are all just people and we are all desperate for a God who loves us.