Monday, November 1, 2010

Trust, But Verify - Доверяй, но проверяй

 - doveryai, no proveryai (an old Russian proverb). I like Russian proverbs and this one is one of my favorites. It is an overused cliché but to me it has so much power. I say it a lot whether it applies to my testing and validating programs or my team reviewing my bug and test reports. It is a two way street. Not sure what prompted me to google for this phrase. Here is what Wikipedia had to say-

"Trust, but verify" was a signature phrase of Ronald Reagan. He used it in public, although he was not the first person known to use it. When Reagan used this phrase, he was usually discussing relations with the Soviet Union and he almost always presented it as a translation of the Russian proverb "doveryai, no proveryai" (Russian: Доверяй, но проверяй) - Trust, but verify. At the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty he used it again and his counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev responded: "You repeat that at every meeting," to which Reagan answered "I like it."

How ironic I thought. It made me think back of my 'previous' life in the former Soviet Union. I learned this and other proverbs at school. Doveryai, no proveryai got me in trouble the most.

For many of us who were growing up in the 70s and 80s it was not unusual to see portraits of Lenin, Marx and Engels in every classroom and a picture of Grandpa Ilyich or toddler Volodya in every textbook. I remember it being overwhelming and confusing but then most of us first graders and seven-year-olds did not understand what the fuss was about. That year we also joined 'Oktyabryata' (young Leninists) and I vaguely remember that it was a happy day. People were cheering and clapping for us. Each of us got a red-star shaped badge with a portrait of a young Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and had to wear it on our school uniform.  We had to read about Volodya the toddler, memorize and recite different episodes from Lenin's childhood, and feel proud of how well he did at Simbirsk Gymnasium.

He sounded like a super toddler, super child and the brightest of all humans. So one day as I was thinking about the proverb I asked my history teacher whether we should believe what we read and learn since no one can prove that all these facts were true. Plus he had been deceased for many years. Could it be that people might have misinterpreted and exaggerated some details? I will never forget the shock on her face. It was scary. I remember her say (yelling rather) something like certain things should not be questioned. I lamely mumbled "but what about the proverb - Doveryai, no proveryai". At this point she lost it. The incident was reported, parents were notified. My ideological beliefs (I was 8 or 9) were questioned.

A small meeting was called to help correct my beliefs. I was basically put in front of a small group of pioneers (Young Communists, similar to the Boy and Girl Scouts) and was humiliated as I was forced to answer unpleasant questions and hear political statements that made little sense. Since that day I have been questioning things even more. I was more discreet but still got in trouble some when I questioned or tried to verify facts and things. Looks like it still haunts me in the present time as well. At least now when I question things no one will call a Young Communist meeting.

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