Doveryai, No Proveryai

28 01 2012

Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan sign the INF Treaty

I love languages.  I’ve spent most of my life learning different languages.  Some—French, for example—involved years of school.  Others I learned enough either to transact business or read text with the aid of dictionaries and grammars.   Spanish.  Greek.  Italian.  Hebrew.  Latin.

And Russian.

Nearly 22 years ago, our family took in a family of Ukrainian immigrants.  Six people in all and none of them spoke a word of English.  Settling into an entirely new country and culture must have been frightening for our Ukrainian friends.

While we knew a few people within 50 miles who spoke Russian or Ukrainian, the task of helping this family settle into American life fell largely to our family.  And because I have a love for foreign languages, I took it upon myself to learn to speak basic Russian in order to do day-to-day business.

At the time, I was managing a full-line bakery and had a very full schedule.  But I bought a Russian grammar and dictionary and dove in.  When working, I propped the grammar on my baker’s bench and taught myself to read Cyrillic script and learn Russian words and phrases while making trays full of cinnamon buns and Italian bread.  It was a great learning experience.

The Russians have a maxim that became famous during the 1987 INF Treaty signing between General Secretary Mikhail S. Gorbachev and President Ronald Reagan.  Doveryai no proveryai.

“Trust, but verify.”

In the case of the INF Treaty, it meant that the United States and the then Soviet Union would give one another the benefit of the doubt, within reason, that they were abiding by the terms of the treaty, which was designed to throttle back the nuclear arms race between the superpowers by eliminating Intermediate and Shorter-Range missiles.  The treaty included the allowance of inspectors within the Soviet Union and the United States to validate that both countries were abiding by their agreement.

The operative phrase here is within reason.

It is good to be able to give the leading voices in our world—political, economic, media and religion—the benefit of the doubt when they declaim on this or that matter of importance.  But such benefit has limits.

Trust, but verify.  This means, among other things, getting second opinions.  Hearing the other side of any given story.  Checking out references and sources.  Authenticating claims.  Challenging generalizations with penetrating questions, even if it makes the one questioned squirm.

Nobody—and I mean nobody—gets a free pass in this life.  Do your homework.  Check information out.  If you’re a Democrat, read what a Republican says, not what MSNBC says a Republican stands for.  If you’re a Republican and want to know what a Democrat stands for, go to the horse’s mouth—not Fox News.  The best sources are original sources.  I’d rather watch the movie myself  than read the critics.  I bet you do too.

The same holds true in religious matters, economic forecasts and medical diagnoses.  You are not helpless and at the mercy of experts.  Check things out for yourself.  Trust…but verify.

You’ll be glad you did.

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2 responses

2 02 2012
David Kanigan

Russian! Me too…Dave

2 02 2012
Christian Fahey

Yes, enough to do business. Such a bolshoi language–majestic and forceful. Would love to read classics, older and modern, in the original!

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