People going rounds

People are going in rounds asking themselves about why Poland is like its always has been: with everything being temporary, broken and or failing. It’s not. Dig deeper into Polish mentality to find the answers. To understand one needs to remember that Poles historically by a vast majority of 60%+ just back in 80s were by large just quiet farmers raised under socialistic regime that was imposed on the country. The specific mentality crafted back in those ages is still prevailing in Polish rural areas and big cities up to these days.

If you look at the map most of the Polish farms are small and fragmented. This changes slowly with foreign investors buying land in Poland en masse and industrializing the business of farming, however this is very slow cooking and still a marginal. There are fewer people living out of farming today but Polish farms are fragmented because Polish mentality focuses very much on one’s property understood as hardship owned by one person. Because of the communism Poland has seen no good examples of people doing something together and therefore it’s not a country very oriented on efforts of communities or companies of people working for an effect larger than sum of its parts.

Polish rural areas have seen very little progress and if not European Union there’s a fair chance there would be no progress at all. With some regions like Westpomeranian seeing unemployment rate of 50% in rural areas and 20% in the capital city of Szczecin just back in the 90s, many frustrated people were forced to move to the city. Similar situation surely had been happening across the country, although at a different pace. Even these days population in major cities in Poland consists in large extend of people originating from rural areas. Everyone living in a major city has many friends who had migrated from villages or whose parents migrated from villages.

This influx influences the whole country and the situation outside the main seven cities has a great impact on what’s going on across the country. Poles prefer doing everything themselves, being one man orchestras, doing stuff without having to trust others “who can’t be trusted”, living afraid that a legend of “first milion has to be stolen” legend might actually prove true. Poles prefer hardship over success but there’s something more here to say on this point. There’s a prevailing mentality of failure. As K.Wojewódzki (one of the most popular TV presented of the longest running talk show) recently admitted: “A Pole needs to be poor to be credible”. Success is not valued in this country, however hardship is glorified. Failure is therefore taken for granted.

Poles are generally against corporations, co-ops as there’s a distinct lack of trust in the population not only in the state but also against any forms of self-organisation, anything that promises a change, in general. Historically this had its own reasons however this line of thinking is still very, very dominant in nowadays Polish mentality. There are almost no true celebrities and very enterpreneurs who are publicly proud of their achievements in doing business in this country. Much like in Russia, they prefer low profile, sharing as few details as what they’re actually doing for living as possible. This is because being miserable, poor and down means you’re with the people. You can be with the people or against them, it’s your choice in this country.

Poles are not about failing but they prefer underdogs as very often they feel that way about themselves. Polish products are always popularly consider underdogs on foreign, or even domestic markets(!). Poles working abroad are always considered as starting as underdogs. Underdogs are therefore not only what we prefer, but in fact it is the very what we are(!), or at least how we think of ourselves… This is embedded very deeply in our cultural DNA. Because of the prevailing social pressure there’s no way to eradicate the perception of being inferior just by switching the economic model and waiting a generation for the broken society to magically fix itself. History, environment, peer pressure will always eventually catch up and most often than not it does.

Going back to the geopolitical example: above is the very reason why traditionally owner of the smallest farm around has been favoured by the community (as opposed to corporate owners of bigger farms). People support the underdogs who they think are just like them: inferior… You should always lend a helping hand to the weak and vulnerable, right? That’s right, even if owner of the smallest farm is always on the loosing end when competing with a larger, more organised farm. Interestingly people support the loosing scenario of being mediocre instead of doing their homework and think: why being mediocre is not good enough anymore and how to be successful instead. Instead they just go in rounds thinking how to bring the successful ones back on the ground and make it as it used to be, whatever that means.

Don’t take it lightly, it’s not only about helping the weakest. Most successful farmers with the biggest farms, the most modern, using the most modern equipment to get the job done are not to be trusted and are often disrespected by the community. Anecdotally the biggest “offense” even these days one can commit in the small village community is to build a shed twice the size of your neighbors and put two harvesters inside that are bigger than others. It is the worst “offence” because it’s a success “in your face” negating the “can’t do” majority, defeating the odds in a really brutal way. Interestingly I’ve heard stories whereas farmers using more modern equipment, building bigger sheds, using larger harvesters have seen their property vandalised…

Take it by another example: the failure of draining the national stadium just in 2012 on Poland v England event overshadowed the success of having a modern stadium built in the first place by a factor of thousands. There where thousands more sharing failure on Facebook than sharing success of building the stadium. Sure it was funny but you can see in what way: the culture of failure is cultivated well up to the date. The majority of comments seen on social media were about not being able to build a stadium, not being able to host world class events and nothing, that is nothing: like being young, seeing the Euro 2012 would change that. Only few people who had the privileged to get onto the stadium themselves have dared to admit how magnificent it is that the country has finally got a stadium of this class. The government has produced a very interesting report (Mlodzi 2011) on the topic of how young people perceive their aspirations. I recommend this report for further reading as it brings many points that support this.

Poles not only prefer underdogs but they hate leaders, corporate, professional, industrial or in government, especially if they’re successful at doing something, like having a productive farm, profitable business or even building a national stadium. There’s no nation where hate would be so widespread across all communities and therefore people often prefer not to differentiate themselves from the other, placing themselves in the lowest denominator class of the society, or being successful keeping low profile for as long as it takes, even at the cost of not being successful and abandoning plans of professional expansion or even a personal success of getting better at something.

You can see that just by asking people around: the common understanding is that Poles spend great amount of time defining their position, wealth and success by comparing themselves to others. There are very few countries in Europe where people would attach such a great deal to the car you drive, the job you do, the way you dress. This is all about knocking down anyone who stands out from a pedestal as many Poles admit, the social punishment for standing out severe. This further escalates the issue as there is still more successful people around as the country gets wealthier and more successful even despite popular perception.

Being successful in this country bears its stigma. Doing more always meant someone else is perceived as doing less and therefore is seen offensive. Successful people should sit quiet, preferably in jail but never ever they should have been put on podiums as examples because whatever the reason of the success, it is perceived as dodgy, because in the past of dark communism times more often than not it was. Success in the past was not possible and majority of people can’t be expected to switch their thinking so they would rather prove the point that success is still dodgy rather than be successful in any area themselves.

If you’re a Pole you understand this better than other perhaps as active resistance against success is generally perceived as a reaction for a threat, possibly a side effect of lack of trust I mentioned earlier. Poles have been taught a very socialistic mentality whereas everyone starts with even chances for a success and the success is defined by reaching a level of personal productivity, wealth, happiness as the national average or less but never every an inch above. The lack of trust is not about lack of trust in people, is about lack of trust in the very thing of the success itself!

Interestingly this socialistic mentality is very much present in the youngest generation. People are still very much into thinking that success is something that can be achieved only be means of dishonest actions. I could drag this article to hundreds of personal stories beginning from the very day I had my 18th birthday and opened a small but pretty office in Szczecin many years ago. This article is not that personal however.

I can see it more clearly after one years back here in Poland after a break of previous seven(!) years. Spending time among different people, in a completely different country and a different reality makes some issues clearer. Remember, social mentality is not distinct to specific generation, it transcends generations by definition – is passed from fathers to sons, even unwillingly (will see how this will work out in my own case), is sinking into one’s mentality through social connections, local media, people’s friends. It spans over the period of seven years I’ve been out of this country and this mentality is perhaps the only thing that has NOT changed even during such a long period.