Are You one of the Volga Boatmen?   by Susan Dunn

The magnificent painting, "Burlaks on the Volga River", is now in the public domain. Most of us have heard the Russian folk song, "The Volga Boatmen," and welcome a look at what the song is about. The song is often sung like a dirge, and you will see why when you look at this painting by Repin.

Now, to refresh your memory, you can click here to hear the song sung, in an old Nelson Eddy movie. The lyrics to the refrain are:

Mighty stream so deep and wide Volga Volga you're our pride Heave ho, heave ho

Now, you can do this exercise I use in my Emotional Intelligence training, and in courses and seminars. In this painting, we see a team at work, doing manual labor. You can probably identify some of the people in the painting. Who is the young golden boy? The one at the rear who seems about to collapse? The leader in the front, old, but apparently doing fine? Which one is you?

Now, on a blog entitled "Volga Boatman," a member of the clergy writes:

"Thinking about liturgical music, the Volga boatmen came to mind. Somewhere in the dim recesses of my mind is an image of men on a towpath, dragging a boat through a canal, accompanied by 'Yo, heave, ho.' And there are times when I feel like one of the guys on the rope line. Dragging the congregation through a Mass, dragging a choir through a new hymn or setting. But those are nothing compared to the way it's going to feel when we try to move forward from what many refer to as 'the four-hymn Mass' to 'ritual music.'

"Anyone who works in the church music world knows that after almost every Mass, someone comes up and tells you that she loves the music because it's strong/tender/enlivening/comforting/'real Catholic music'/up-to-date, etc.

That individual is followed by someone who hates it. It's too loud/soft/fast/slow/traditional/modern/hard-to-sing,etc.

[I used to be the Outreach Director for a church and greeted people as they came in the sanctuary. I would hear, "It's too hot in here/just right in here for once/freezing cold in here." Everyone should have this experience in order to understand what "leadership" is all about.]

However, that's not my point here. I have a few questions for you, actually.

1. Do you find it odd the clergyman didn't see himself as the man on the boat in the orange shirt? 2. Would there be anything 'wrong' if the leader were on the boat, not hauling? 3. What about if he were pitching in? He appears to see himself perhaps as the man in the front right. Dragging them forward. 4. If you were the man in the orange shirt directing this whole thing, would you feel guilty? 5. Did you even see the man on the boat in the orange shirt?

It's about the big picture: --Not letting your emotions get in the way of your perceptions, --About what you 'read into' a painting. We all do this. That's why there are paintings, and why we love them. (The great arts [culture] BTW, are an important component of emotional intelligence). --The experiences you have had, and the emotions around them that you bring to apainting become your reality. --Your beliefs and attitudes about labor, i.e., all work is slave labor and you are condemned to do it ... or think-work is lazy, manual labor is "honest labor" --How much you identify with the people in a painting and why --How much you know about Czarist Russian and if you can distance yourself to get intellectual; or, conversely, if you automatically intellectualize your emotions --Your attitudes toward paintings - worthless nonsense, "not for me," "what's the purpose? - why are you 'making' me look at a painting?"

Some people identify with the Volga boatmen, and immediately start talking about "slave labor." Others identify with the suffering in general (especially if they are familiar with this time period in Russia's history) and they usually fail to see the men on the boat, or to remember them. Some who are leaders see themselves as the man in the orange shirt, while others who are leaders see themselves as the man front left. Others might start fantasizing about never having to work.

There are many reactions you can have.

About the Author

Susan Dunn, trains and certifies coaches worldwide in a fast, affordable, comprehensive, no-residency program. She offers relationship and emotional intelligence coaching, business programs, Internet courses and ebooks. Email for free EQ ezine.