8 Things Cultured People Do Differently.

What do cultured people look like? What do they sound like? What do they think about? And, most importantly, how do they operate?
Is it just fashion, myth or vanity? Is it about how talented you are, how much you have read (or pretend you have), about style or about how people see you?

Or are there specific habits or character traits that make some people more visibly cultured—that is, more aware and sensible to their times—than others? Has the cultured ideal been washed off over the past century or does it remain in our tired social imagination, even more alive than before?

Legendary Russian dramatist and physician Anton Chekhov, one of the best short story writers of all times, identifies eight qualities predominant in so-called cultured individuals in a letter to his brother Nikolai, an artist.

 

{Anton Chekhov with his older brother Nikolai in 1882}

 

Voilá the eight things cultured people do differently, according to Monsieur Chekhov.

As found in the Letters of Anton Chekhov to his Family and Friends.

MOSCOW, 1886.

 

You have often complained to me that people “don’t understand you”! Goethe and Newton did not complain of that…Only Christ complained of it, but He was speaking of His doctrine and not of Himself…People understand you perfectly well. And if you do not understand yourself, it is not their fault.

 

I assure you as a brother and as a friend, I understand you and feel for you with all my heart. I know your good qualities as I know my five fingers; I value and deeply respect them. If you like, to prove that I understand you, I can enumerate those qualities. I think you are kind to the point of softness, magnanimous, unselfish, ready to share your last farthing; you have no envy nor hatred; you are simple-hearted, you pity men and beasts; you are trustful, without spite or guile, and do not remember evil…

 

You have a gift from above such as other people have not: you have talent. This talent places you above millions of men, for on earth only one out of two millions is an artist. Your talent sets you apart: if you were a toad or a tarantula, even then, people would respect you, for to talent all things are forgiven.

 

You have only one failing, and the falseness of your position, and your unhappiness and your catarrh of the bowels are all due to it. That is, your utter lack of culture.

 

Forgive me, please, but veritas magis amicitiae… You see, life has its conditions. In order to feel comfortable among educated people, to be at home and happy with them, one must be cultured to a certain extent. Talent has brought you into such a circle, you belong to it, but… you are drawn away from it, and you vacillate between cultured people and the lodgersvis-a-vis.

 

Cultured people must, in my opinion, satisfy the following conditions:

 

1. They respect human personality, and therefore they are always kind, gentle, polite, and ready to give in to others. They do not make a row because of a hammer or a lost piece of india-rubber; if they live with anyone they do not regard it as a favour and, going away, they do not say “nobody can live with you.” They forgive noise and cold and dried-up meat and witticisms and the presence of strangers in their homes.

 

2. They have sympathy not for beggars and cats alone. Their heart aches for what the eye does not see… They sit up at night in order to help P…, to pay for brothers at the University, and to buy clothes for their mother.

 

3. They respect the property of others, and therefor pay their debts.

 

4. They are sincere, and dread lying like fire. They don’t lie even in small things. A lie is insulting to the listener and puts him in a lower position in the eyes of the speaker. They do not pose, they behave in the street as they do at home, they do not show off before their humbler comrades. They are not given to babbling and forcing their uninvited confidences on others. Out of respect for other people’s ears they more often keep silent than talk.

 

5. They do not disparage themselves to rouse compassion. They do not play on the strings of other people’s hearts so that they may sigh and make much of them. They do not say “I am misunderstood,” or “I have become second-rate,” because all this is striving after cheap effect, is vulgar, stale, false…

 

6. They have no shallow vanity. They do not care for such false diamonds as knowing celebrities… listening to the raptures of a stray spectator in a picture show, being renowned in the taverns… If they do a pennyworth they do not strut about as though they had done a hundred roubles’ worth, and do not brag of having the entry where others are not admitted… The truly talented always keep in obscurity among the crowd, as far as possible from advertisement… Even Krylov has said that an empty barrel echoes more loudly than a full one.

 

7. If they have a talent they respect it. They sacrifice to it rest, women, wine, vanity… They are proud of their talent… Besides, they are fastidious.

 

8. They develop the aesthetic feeling in themselves. They cannot go to sleep in their clothes, see cracks full of bugs on the walls, breathe bad air, walk on a floor that has been spat upon, cook their meals over an oil stove. They seek as far as possible to restrain and ennoble the sexual instinct… What they want in a woman is not a bed-fellow… They do not ask for the cleverness which shows itself in continual lying. They want especially, if they are artists, freshness, elegance, humanity, the capacity for motherhood… They do not swill vodka at all hours of the day and night, do not sniff at cupboards, for they are not pigs and know they are not. They drink only when they are free, on occasion… For they want mens sana in corpore sano [a healthy mind in a healthy body].

 

And so on. This is what cultured people are like. In order to be cultured and not to stand below the level of your surroundings it is not enough to have read “The Pickwick Papers” and learnt a monologue from “Faust.” {…}

 

What is needed is constant work, day and night, constant reading, study, will… Every hour is precious for it… Come to us, smash the vodka bottle, lie down and read… Turgenev, if you like, whom you have not read.

 

You must drop your vanity, you are not a child… you will soon be thirty. It is time! I expect you… We all expect you.

 

*Treasure discovered via BrainPickings.com.

 

{Portrait of Anton Chekhov painted by his brother Nikolai}

 

So, according to Chekhov, “being cultured” is synonymous with being compassionate, sensitive, mindful, kind, true to oneself and to others, resourceful, grateful, aware, tasteful and seasoned with a great amount of courage and integrity—qualities most individuals are or should be reaching for on a daily basis. In other words, to be cultured is to be whole. 

Perhaps what still remains nearsighted and obtuse to this day is our popular (mis)understanding of culture as a set of arts or activities, the entertainment of our times. This is where Chekhov’s timeless truth takes off its nineteenth century clothes and crosses over to our side of the screen to say: Yo, Sir. You’re wrong. 

Culture is not a thing or a set of things or a taste for them, displayed during a certain period in life or history. Feasting on art and running on creativity, culture is a collective way of operating.

Whatever you read, paint or invent, culture is our cumulative and shared social plasma—it’s what makes our individual discoveries, talents and accomplishments possible. We need blood to survive and we need culture to help us realize we are bigger than survival. It is the top layer of our aliveness. The bigger picture.

As Chuck Pahlaniuk more modernly put it,

“The first step—especially for young people with energy and drive and talent, but not money—the first step to controlling your world is to control your culture. To model and demonstrate the kind of world you demand to live in. To write the books. Make the music. Shoot the films. Paint the art.” 

Whatever it is manifested through, the point of culture is to enact the kind of world you demand to live in, in order that sooner or later, it may physically become that world. And to do this, you need to sharpen your character’s saw.

So let me rephrase the fundamental question: Are you culturing yourself?

If your answer is No, then my next question is: Why not?!

 

*****

More Culture-fullness: 

>> Joseph Campbell on the Art of Being Alive.

>> A Recipe for Creativity from John Cleese.

>> 29 ways to stay creative: begin with darkness.

 

 

{Rebelle Culture Lab on Facebook & Twitter}

 

*** Get my Weekly Stroke of Renaissance: FREE creative resources, juicy life tips & game-changing goodies in your Inbox Wonderland.

 

 

Andrea Balt
Co-Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Rebelle Society, Wellness Alchemist at Rebelle Wellness & Creativity Curator at Creative Rehab. Unfinished book with a love for greens, bikes and poetry; raised by wolves & adopted by people; not trying to make art but to Be Art. Holds a BA in Journalism & Mass Communication, an MFA in Creative Writing & a Holistic Health Coach degree from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition®. In her work she tries to reflect the wholeness of the human experience by combining Art & Health + Brains & Beauty + Darkness & Brilliance into a more alive, unabridged and unlimited edition of ourselves. She is also on a quest to reinstate Creativity as one of our essential Human Rights to (hopefully and soon) be included in the UN Declaration. Connect with her in the Social Media Jungle via Facebook, Twitter & Instagram and sign up for her FREE Almost-Weekly Stroke of Renaissance.
Andrea Balt

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