Culture Up: Why?

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.

Anton Chekhov, 1886, in a letter to his brother

Well, if Anton Chekhov told his brother that it’s high time to get cultured when he was almost thirty, then I think over-30 me should get her butt in gear.  That’s the short, facetious answer to “why.”

But real talk, though. When I was trying to figure out this month’s blog post, I was faced with the question, “why?” Why do I want to “get cultured?” Why bother researching details of things that may never come up in conversation?

Well, for one, I’m a total Ravenclaw.

For another, I’m in the process of getting my Master’s degree and am planning on a career in academia. Therefore, I will be spending much of my time around highly educated people – and if you know me, I’m just not one of those people. Give me the choice between going to the opera and watching Seinfeld reruns, I get the sense you know what I’d choose every single time.


So with those two parts battling inside me, I’m taking myself on this journey.  Along the proverbial road, I found Chekhov’s letter to his bother (link above).  Chekhov enumerated 8 conditions of cultured people to guide his little brother:

#1 They respect human personality, and therefore they are always kind, gentle, polite, and ready to give in to others. 


#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.


#6 They have no shallow vanity. … 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….


#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. … For they want mens sana in corpore sano [a healthy mind in a healthy body].


Okay, admittedly not all of those lend themselves well to gifs, but you get the picture. Being cultured is more than knowing who wrote ‘Madame Butterfly’ and what symbolism there is in “The Birth of Venus.” It’s how you act, how you carry yourself, and how you treat people.


But don’t worry. I’ll still be educating us every month with all those high culture artifacts.

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