Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"We Must Cut Off Our Beards!"

The Ukrainian and Russian languages have a host of proverbs and sayings that are still used today but relate to much earlier times. So in the same way that my mom says, "fish or cut bait," or described us as looking like "the last rose of summer," when we were sick, I've heard many proverbs here. There's the one about Ukrainians being slow to saddle the horse, but once they get going, they get going!

But the other day I heard a second-hand reaction to one of my workshops that used a historical allusion. The participant had enjoyed the workshop, but saw how much there was to accomplish, how much change was needed, so she said, "We must cut off our beards!" I looked very puzzled until I got the explanation. It was a reference to Russia's Peter the Great (1672-1725) who looked to western Europe for ideas and inspiration, coming home and commanding all in his court to cut off their beards as a way of demonstrating change (and, like all the Tzars, demonstrating iron-fisted control as well).

I don't think Ukrainians should figuratively cut off all their beards, doing away with all their traditions, but I wouldn't be sad to see the old white beards of the Soviet era shaved clean, with museum colleagues of all ages and interests, embracing those new ideas. So I was very pleased that one participant was ready for change--I'm far from Peter the Great, so my work here is one person, one conversation, one idea, at a time.

And some other great Ukrainian proverbs from Ukraine.com:
A head is not only for putting your hat on.
A crow will never be a falcon.
Wisdom is in the head, not in the beard.
To see a friend no road is too long.
A dream is sweeter than honey.

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