Frank Thoms

It's all about the collective

Feb 04, 2023 by Frank Thoms

Irina Nikolaevna, my supervisor, stormed into the room and expressed her indignation at their misbehavior. Nothing more was said. Skipping science had been a collective decision. No need for her to seek the perpetrator. Later, reflecting on Gleb’s intransigent stance, I understood that he and his classmates had made the decision together. They had grown up in a collective.

The collective is a cocoon, one that protects each member. Irina could only chastise. She did not try to single out a perpetrator—as I attempted to with Gleb. It had been a collective decision. If a punishment had been warranted, she would have exacted one. But science was over. The next class was about to begin. And to consider putting them in after-school detention? Not possible, not even a thought. Absurd, in fact. All forty members of the form would have to be there. Detention would have to be in the assembly hall. No teachers would want to have to supervise that! Besides, they needed to go home after school to take care of their families.

The collective cocoon has been Russia for centuries. The thought of a culture that encourages differences is not on the horizon. I learned from conversations in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, that people shunned those who tried to get ahead or to get more for their apartments. We are in in it together and together we will be. The glimpse of a more dynamic society during Gorbachev dimmed quickly.