Sunday, January 8, 2012

A day in the life

Recently Anatoly Vorobey asked his audience for opinions on the essay I wrote for Bolder Giving. Surprisingly to me, it got hundreds of comments. (If you don't read Russian, you may find a rough translation helpful.)

Commenters' opinions ranged from “Commendable” to “Excessive fanaticism” to “Behind such altruism usually lurk serious problems, lack of meaning in life, and great tension” and, my favorite, “Most likely the extreme result of brainwashing or disease.”

The part they found most shocking was that I said Jeff and I weren't sure about having children. This, apparently, indicates a really twisted mind. Someone nominated us for a Darwin award, commenting that at least we wouldn't pass on our altruistic sickness. Some were more pragmatic (“If you give birth, let's see you deny your child ice cream for higher goals.”)

I found this all pretty amusing. And so I want to give you a taste of the twisted life we fanatics lead. Yesterday, for example:

Saturday, January 7

We lay in bed for a while and then took down our Christmas tree. I made blackcurrant muffins for breakfast.

Later in the morning, some of Jeff's musician friends came over and they played music for a few hours. I made lunch and we ate with them.

In the afternoon, Jeff went to the grocery store while I took a long bath and read a novel. (Like most people in the world, we don't have a car, so we chose an apartment within walking distance of a grocery store. We carry the groceries in a wire cart.)

We took a nap.

In the evening, Jeff's parents came over to dinner. We spent a while admiring our housemates' baby, then we ate and talked for a few hours. After dinner we had tea and tiramisu.

After they left, Jeff did the dishes while I read aloud from a book of Sherlock Holmes stories. Then we lay in bed reading for a while and went to sleep.

Yes, it is into this perverse life of self-deprivation that we may someday bring a child!


  1. Thank you for keeping your cool and your sense of humor in view of these comments :)

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  3. There was a similar reaction to the press coverage of Zell Kravinsky several years ago. Granted, he was a bit too generous for his own and other peoples' good.

    I wonder whether some people feel threatened when they hear stories of ordinary people's being more generous than the norm. They don't want to face the possibility that they should be doing more, so they denigrate the good-doer.

  4. Steven, I'm sorry you deleted your post, because it was a thoughtful one.

    I used to talk about the Russian/American differences with my college roommate, who was from Moscow. I understand that I have my mindset partly because I grew up with all my needs met. If I had grown up in conditions of scarcity and horrible mismanagement, I might be more cautious and less generous. But I am what I am, and since I was lucky I want to spread out the resources I have.

  5. Julia, sorry, I wanted to edit my comment and inadvertently deleted it.

    I partly disagree with you on that your mindset is the result of your material well-being. Many of the commenters at Anatoly's blog are immigrants in various Western countries, most of them - professionals, the ones based in Russia are overwhelmingly from Moscow, St. Petersburg and other large urban centers where the income level is on par with Western Europe. I immigrated from Kiev to US in 1989, and yes, even though materially we were much poorer than our western counterparts, all our basic needs were met.

    Again, the difference is purely in the mindset, mostly in reaction to the communist propaganda, as a suspicion of any altruistic motive.

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  7. Steven,
    Good point. My roommate didn't lack material things, because her parents provided for her, but she learned that you can't trust strangers (e.g. you can't leave toilet paper in public bathrooms because people will steal it.) Also, anti-Semitism was stronger there than here. Even if her family had what they needed, they lived with more uncertainty than my family about whether that would continue.

    So I think she learned that you can really only trust family and friends, whereas I was more willing to trust strangers, organizations, and governments to do the right thing.

    And yes, I think she had also learned to distrust anyone saying "you should give your money to other people" because of how badly that had gone in Russia.