English / 08.02.2020 / 2810

Babylonian Squabbles

Iliy Kvatsashvili, author from the Dark Side of Business

Once again I wondered: why is it so difficult to understand other people? Recently, we had a heated discussion in our chat. One of our readers pondered: what motivates young people these days to join power structures where there is “no place for individualism”? Someone suggested they could be compared to Batman: “Being afraid of bats, he decided to become one of them. So did these people: being afraid of the authorities, they decided to become them.” Someone else had a counter question, “How successful would they be had they not decided to join these structures?”

In general, our exchange of opinions was quite logical. And it wasn’t the topic itself that interested me. It’s more that, apparently, for every participant in that conversation, the world of those young people was distant and incomprehensible. And even if one of them had wound up in our chat and answered the question, that would unlikely have satisfied the ones asking it. More likely, the exchange of opinions would have turned into an argument.

It reminded me of the parable about the blind sages and the Elephant. Do you remember that one? One sage squeezes the leg and says the elephant is like a tree. The other holds the trunk in his hand and compares the elephant to a snake…

We’re still arguing in the ruins of the Tower of Babel, whose construction is yet to start.

What was it that Bykov wrote in his poem about affairs? “For he is most laughable who didn’t portray all of the roles in a three-person play…” And in our case, I feel more and more like I got to be each of the blind men from the parable, yet the Elephant still eludes me… Let’s try to figure this out together and eat this little Elephant of ours. And, as we all remember, it must always be eaten bit by bit.

“I know the whole truth”

Last year, I had this conversation with one young woman:
“I don’t get why everyone’s hating on the mayor so much! He really improved things in the city!” ranted the hereditary (at her own insistence) Muscovite. “And not just the city: I had a kid recently, and I was so surprised! In the hospital, everything was high-tech, I didn’t have to pay anything, and they gave me this giant box with all sorts of useful stuff, it must’ve cost like forty thousand rubles… And I see that we’re living better and better every year. And it’s not just me; I have friends who will all tell you the same story.”

I looked at her and thought how just ten years ago, these same sentiments would have pissed me off so much that I would, frothing at the mouth with righteous fury, have given her an hour-and-a-half-long lecture in return. But now I just looked at her – an athlete who had appeared on TV a couple times, an entrepreneur, a Moscow State University graduate, and, of course, a Muscovite (once again, hereditary) – and asked:

“Do you have any acquaintances who aren’t from Moscow?”

The conversation didn't really go on much longer. I guess the topic exhausted itself. And really, I wasn’t going to tell the beautiful young woman about the one-way transfer of resources from the regions to the center, or the level of corruption, or the two wafer-thin segments of society: those, for whom life actually does get “better and better every year”, and those who still somehow manage to think that it does.

There is this trait humans share – if we know some “truth”, most of us have the desire to impose it on others. But under no circumstances do we try to hear and understand the other people’s “truth”, so that we could combine the two of them and get closer to the truth.

“Not understanding and not wanting to understand”

It’s the early 2000s. I’m in my graduation year of high school. It’s a history lesson like any other. I, my eyes sparkling fanatically, with my motto of “Courage and Idiocy”, launch a full-on offensive against my post-retirement age history teacher.

“The industrialization!” my voice booms and reverberates far beyond the classroom, the floor it was on, and quite possibly the entire school.

“The repressions!” Another portion of sand fell out of the teacher’s toothless mouth. From the folds of her shriveled up, prune-like face, her cloudy eyes twinkle maliciously. We were in the midst of yet another argument about Stalin, the Soviet Union, and the Russian Empire. I had read books, heard real-life stories from my grandparents and my parents. And the old hag kept on repeating her trendy mantras. When did she have the time to flip-flop like that? Just five years ago, in the mid-90s she had sung an entirely different tune… We did not find a common language in the end. We settled on a B. Seems like her pride didn’t allow her to give me an A, and the vice principal didn’t allow her to give me a C. We left it at that.

The second “piece” of the elephant is not wanting to understand your opponent. Like a trashy tourist who has an outburst if people don’t speak to him in his native language. He doesn’t know any other languages and doesn’t want to learn them. He wants to be understood, but is not interested in understanding others.


“How is that possible?! You can't have forgotten me!”

Do you think it was some young woman that threw this kind of tantrum? Think again. It was a man, a father of two, or maybe three, as I recall. My ex-coworker. I used to help him out where I could. Then I left, and he could not stop thinking about it. He wrote to me, then thought about me again and tried to share all the hardships that life had thrown at him. One beautiful day, when I was clearing out my list of online friends, he was among those I decided to delete. I realized I had nothing to say to that person. But for him, this event turned out to be a shock. For a whole week he would rant and rave about me on various social networks. Then, he calmed down.

Really, a lot of people made it onto my “goodbye” list. And I’m sure a lot of them still purse their lips and spit poison when hearing my name: “So full of himself!” And they spin their yarn of gossip and judgments. At times, I can even hear the sounds of their hissing coming from across the sea.

And the last important part of our Elephant of Discord is the desire to judge. We look at someone who had invested in the infamous MMM Ponzi scheme in the 90s when everyone and their dog were calling it a scam. Not many are interested in knowing why they had done it. Most people, hiding behind surprise and curiosity, start to judge. Because only an idiot doesn’t watch the news if I watch the news, right?


We’re still arguing in the ruins of the Tower of Babel, whose construction is yet to start. As in most cases, God had nothing to do with the woes of the Babylonian builders. It wasn’t really he who confounded the languages of the people. They did it themselves. Even speaking one language, you can't reach an agreement if you’re only interested in hearing yourself. You can’t make the person you’re talking to understand if he doesn’t want to understand. And vice versa, even speaking entirely different languages, we can learn to agree and cooperate. For that, we just have to want to understand one another. There’s an ancient recipe for achieving that in any situation. Are you ready? Write it down: it’s being ready to work together and develop a common language. Yes, it’s quite a short recipe. But you have to think about it.

Every time I see someone I don’t understand, or someone I want to judge, I remember this recipe. And I remind myself that in front of me is just another person. But again and again I repeat the same old mistakes when meeting someone new. Someone who makes me want to say, “Well, this is a clear-cut case! What a vain scumbag!”... Oh, sorry, that was just me walking past the mirror…

For over two thousand years, Plato, speaking through Socrates, has been telling his student the myth about the cave. But I keep walking among the shadows. Maybe it’s not the people that are the problem: maybe it’s the elephants.


Six blind elephants once got together, hoping to cooperate and finally learn, what on Earth a human is. One elephant felt the human with his foot and said: “A human is something small and flat.” The other elephants also felt the human with their feet and agreed with the first one wholeheartedly.

Leonardo’s Notes

“The problem is, Nikolai, that you never finish anything you start. You don’t even have a degree,” my girlfriend scolded me. We were on the subway.
She had just received some money to make a website, where she would eventually put up some boring local news. The site had dramatically less subscribers than even her Facebook page. In a couple years, the project went bankrupt. But she never lost her faith in the magical formula:

“You need closure. Every beginning has an end…”


The thought of eternal life

Neuroscientists say that the bigger the brain, the longer a mammal lives. And there is also a commonplace observation: people who are engaged in research, teaching, and theoretical science live long. You can count straight from Plato, who died at the age of eighty. His colleague Newton at 84, Mendeleev at 72, Einstein at 76, physicist Niels Bohr at 77, and so on. And the other day I was walking around Cyprus with a PhD, so she told me:


How Fair Ladies Rule

“What is power? Who needs it?” a pretty girl asked me. It was a difficult question. Talking to a beautiful woman, you want to say something funny, something light-hearted. You want to tell a joke. But talking about power you’re one step away from seeming boring. Can I avoid this fate? I’m afraid no. I’ll have to write my answer, at the risk of being perceived as dull. Well, what else can I do? Maybe at least She’ll read it..?


In the times of Father

My father played a mean joke on me. Our discussions, though rare, always left me in a state of slight to heavy confusion. For example, when I was five years old, he told me: “A man could never imagine two things: infinity and eternity”. My mind, young and inquisitive as it was, decided to test that statement. I sat down in my room and tried to imagine the supposedly unimaginable entities. This led to intense drooling.


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