On Trust: The Tale of the Gut and the Russian Syndrome

I never fully understood why the concept of human intuition has been so underappreciated by the society at large. As we mature we are constantly subjected to moulding which doesn’t waste any space or consideration for our “gut feeling”.

Throughout our schooling, pursuit of degrees, family relationships and wider relationships we are often taught that what we feel is more than inferior to what we ought to think. We are told that our feelings are irrational and unreliable; thus our reason and intellect should take control over them, in fact, we ought to weed out any emotions from our consciousness. This, the common reasoning continued, would be best not just for others around us, but mostly for ourselves.

Being brought up in Eastern Europe, I have been affected by what my good friend and mentor calls the “Russian syndrome”. She can easily call me on this one, because she’s struggled with the same set of inherent belief systems her whole life. My flatmate is also, conveniently for the purpose of this article, Russian and so because it is always easier to point a finger at someone else, I see the syndrome strongly manifesting itself in her. Since, however, once we point our finger at someone else, three fingers point back at us, I have tried very seriously to be honest with myself over some time now.

There is nothing essentially wrong with Eastern European upbringing. We are tougher than our Western peers. When Americans were living their American dream and Western Europe was benefiting from the Marshall Plan, the Eastern block was being tube-fed Marx and Lenin for more than 50 years. With KGB ready to arrest anyone who even coughed against the system, our parents learned never to breathe a word, be as concise as possible and developed a skill of answering questions without actually saying anything. Even though I was born at the time when the Berlin Wall was about to collapse, I still sucked out the tension along with my mother’s milk, figuratively speaking of course. Without diverting too much from the topic, I was a very hungry child and had no patience for being breast-fed. Mum attempted fighting my impatience for some time until she gave up and stuffed a bottle into my unsatisfied mouth.

There are many other things that are good about this system. The drive for learning, the drive for success, the drive for excellence… The disadvantage of it however is the fact that very quickly we have learned that being human is not going to take us anywhere. To err is human? Well, we had no time to err, so human we were not interested in becoming. As we have grown and understood the importance of continuous excellence we agreed very much that emotions were quite useless in achieving our goals so we began shedding them and forced ourselves to do things we normally wouldn’t do only to ensure that that part of us was successfully subdued and would not cause problems in the future.

As I progressed through my not such a long life, I discovered that it was unfashionable to feel strongly about social, political or other issues. English universities and social circles successfully weeded out anything that was left of my gut feeling about things. Subjecting thought to emotion was more than undesirable; it was unprofessional and unreliable, and so in order to survive one needed to become an emotional void, aggressively attacking anything other than logic and numbing themselves with intellectual matters, more learning and never-ending hours of work. In terms of social interaction, we allowed to be approached by people whom we didn’t have a good feeling about, but we disregarded it, because of the need for remaining rational and seeing the bigger picture; often meaning that existing in a certain circle or being with a certain person required from us denial of the deeper nagging feeling in us and, instead, stubbornly following the prospective benefits resulting from such engagements.

In order not to be taken advantage of by the people that we weren’t too sure about to start with, we have accustomed ourselves to following the new trend in the art of architecture – the state-of-the-art walls that were designed to initially protect us against others, but consequently became our only place of escape from the nagging, unanswered call deep in our gut and the methodological reasoning of our intellect.

I do not know if one needs to hit the rock bottom to finally say “stop” to this madness. Perhaps one can create an artificial crisis if they are aware of what has happened to them. All I know is that one day we receive a message stating that we have over 20 years worth of unanswered messages and phone calls from the Gut. The Gut, resembling now more a potential problem inflated to monstrous proportions, unknown to us entered the stage of negotiations pointing at the cracks in our walls. The message is simple: the walls aren’t going to hold much longer. Either we will have to build them thicker and thicker retreating deeper and deeper into ourselves consequently knowing that this really wouldn’t change anything, or we will have a quick chat and enter the stage of reconciliation.

So we end up having a quick coffee with the Gut. By now the Gut is ridiculously emotional about everything that happened in life and potentially could have been prevented, if the Gut’s opinion was taken into any consideration. Seeing how a single-handed management of one’s life by pure reason has been, we are ready to let the Gut speak longer and we order another coffee.

“Listen”, says the Gut “I know you don’t believe me, but give me a chance to prove it to you next time you need me”.

“Sure”, we answer without conviction, dripping with scepticism, hoping that the need won’t arise. However, at this point of realisation we know that we cannot answer negatively to this proposal, because, after all, what if the Gut has been right?

And so lo and behold, as life always takes unexpected turns, we are faced with the situation when the Gut instantly pangs us and tells us not to attempt or to pursue the matter in question. Reason, reasonably of course,  kicks in and suggest conducting further research before jumping into conclusions. The Gut doesn’t mind at all, but also doesn’t lessen the grip either. The research through reliable channels returns very much positive. We receive a green light to go. The Gut however, points to the little things that somehow don’t add up.

This is one of the crucial moments in life. When being put in the same situation, we get to choose whether or not we will follow our old patterns. With Jefferson’s quote in mind, we make a decision. Ok Gut, your call. Show me that you are right.

Then, true story which happened more than three months ago, I find myself very reluctant to put myself in a setting clearly preferred by a person pursuing formal acquaintance. This time reason agrees to cooperate also curious about the outcome. The gut feeling became stronger as I met the person, albeit in the safe setting of a group meal. Still, nonetheless, I couldn’t bring myself to be more than minimally civil. My natural antisocial skills managed the art of avoidance and prompted seat-changing with some of my colleagues. Without knowing exactly why I felt the way I did, with generally enough potential space for error, I observed what the Gut was pointing at. My rational side at some point mentioned that though the Gut may be right, judging the case presented more closely yet still at distance, at least I ought to appear friendly before my stance would become apparent. I resolved to cautiously exchange a word or two, but first procrastinated and had a couple of home-made prune liquor shots. As I physically turned to my left, I decided to have another shot of newly arrived peach liquor. Anything seemed like a good enough reason for delay. My degustation ended with a chilli infused vodka that resulted in perspiration and the attack of violent cough. While finishing the second glass of water I resolved to make the step towards masking my dislike. With my skin crawling I placed the glass on the table and as I lifted my eyes I noticed a friend of mine coming in. She quickly sat down next to me and as she looked to my left, she whispered and mentioned that she knew the guy.

“What’s wrong?” I barked.

I found out what was wrong. Despite excellent references the man would be detrimental to me even as a far acquaintance. Since then I tested the Gut on a few more occasions. Then we decided to meet for another coffee. We sat for a long time in silence. I sensed that the Gut would consider an apology to be nothing more but a set of wasted words. I needed to voice one worry though:

“But, Gut, can you promise you will always be rational?”

“I can promise to hardly ever be rational. That’s not my job. My job is to pick on things that you would normally overlook. I leave it up to you to analyse what I am showing you.”

“Sounds unsafe.”

“If the bad feeling turned out to be right, is it, rationally speaking, possible that the good feeling will be right too?”



“What if I fall?”

The Gut smiled.

“Oh, but my darling, what if you fly?”


4 thoughts on “On Trust: The Tale of the Gut and the Russian Syndrome

  1. This made me cry. In a good way.

    The first part of this post reminds me of my therapy process dealing with years of pent-up pain and frustration that simply couldn’t be addressed until safe. Learning to trust your gut resonates very strongly with me. We spend so much time focusing on doing the things we “ought” to do and ignoring the things our gut screams we MUST consider first.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. I wish I knew how therapy worked.

      But indeed, we need a safe environment to be able to reach that deep into ourselves and not be constantly on our guard. We need to know that we are not in immediate threat. Sadly, there aren’t many places in our lives that we can feel that level of safety, because we are continuously focused on day to day survival.


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