Vysotsky, Empathy and Self-Esteem

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Ilya Shambat

Oct 4, 2022, 4:55:37 AMOct 4
In a song called "Ships," the Soviet Union's greatest songwriter Vladimir Vysotsky stated, "I have no trust in fate, in myself even less faith." This statement poses a profound challenge to much contemporary thought in psychology.

According to contemporary psychology, self-faith (or self-esteem) is a prerequisite for a successful existence. According to this thought, Vysotsky should have been a complete loser. And yet he was one of the most successful singers and songwriters in all of history. How can this be?

Well it turns out that there is a very obvious reason why this can be. Self-faith and self-esteem are far from the only powers out there. Vystosky has been described by many people as being "the soul of Russia." What does this mean?

What this means in real-world terms is that he felt what the people of Russia were feeling and giving these feelings expression. People love those who articulate what they themselves feel, especially the feelings that they themselves either don't know how to, or are not allowed to, express. People love an empath, especially a vocal empath. So that even someone like Eminem, who expresses the ugliest of feelings, gets a huge following by tapping into what people are feeling and expressing it for them.

With Vysotsky, the feelings that he was expressing ranged across the board of Russian people. He had songs about people fighting in Second World War; about prisoners; about drunks; about punks; even about mental patients. And because of the vast emotional effort that he had put into feeling and then expressing what others were feeling, his own feelings were so enmeshed with those of others that, even when he was only expressing himself - as he did in "Ships" - his feelings still spoke to those of his audience.

In the West, the artists are taught to express their own feelings. This advice, I have found, is counterproductive. It gets the artistic types accused of self-absorption even as it fails to develop their ability to speak to the rest of the world. The vast success of Vysotsky, and the lack of interest that many people in the West have for the arts, show just how counter-productive this stance has been.

But there is something even more profound in this matter. Faith is by definition in things that are outside of what it is that believes. When one is in touch with something that is more profound than one's self - as was Vysotsky with the feelings of Russian people - then one does not need to have faith in oneself; indeed one does not need to have faith period. One is already in touch with a vast and powerful presence that extends far beyond oneself. And that is a source of far greater wisdom and far greater power than is self-belief.

Instead of teaching people to look within, it is far more effective to teach them to look outside of themselves - at other people, at nature, at other cultures than their own. The success of Vysotsky far exceeds that of any self-esteeming yuppie, and there is a very good reason for that. He was in touch with something much deeper than his immediate self, and he put words to it. And it is for this reason that his songs are still being listened to all over Russia over 30 years after his death.

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