The Russian language abounds in wise proverbs, but I am very much confused by some of them, specifically by those that appear to discourage proactiveness. I am at a loss as to how such a good thing as proactiveness could be viewed negatively, and this makes me doubt whether I get these proverbs right. I humbly hope that native speakers can kindly shed some light for a confused Japanese student.

Here are the proverbs:

(1) Проблемы надо решать по мере поступления. (Problems should be dealt with after they arise. Literally: Problems should be dealt with to the extent of their arrival.)

I have always believed that one of the most important things is to foresee potential problems and avoid them. In my childhood I was taught to play various strategy games (gomokunarabe, renju, Go, shogi, chess, draughts) to develop the ability to calculate many moves ahead. I was taught that this is a central ability in life. And the above Russian proverb appears to promote precisely the opposite view, apparently instructing to first wait for problems to arise and to only then get busy dealing with them.

(2) Не надо делить шкуру неубитого медведя. (People should not think how to divide the skin of a bear if it is still running free in the forest. Literally: One should not divide the skin of a bear that has not been killed yet.)

I have always believed that before you engage in any cooperation, you should agree with your partners on how to divide the future fruits of that cooperation, as otherwise you may end up fighting with your partners for those fruits. The above Russian proverb seems to instruct not to avoid that potential problem. More broadly, I was taught that if I do something, I should know what's in it for me. The above Russian proverb seems to say the opposite: first do something and then think or ask what you get for it.

(3) Пока гром не грянет, мужик не перекрестится. (A real man won't bother until he hears a thunder. Literally: Until a thunder strikes, a man won't perform the Christian ritual of crossing.)

I was taught to always watch for early, subtle signs of problems, especially in interpersonal relationships, and this Russian proverb appears to say that it is normal to ignore early signs and wait for an explicit and undeniable manifestation of a problem.

I tried to do my research by googling, but got even more confused by Russian texts, which appear to presume that the reader has Russian thinking patterns.

My question: What are the meaning and usage of the Russian proverbs that appear to discourage proactiveness?

  • 3
    we sort of ending up in the same conversation again and again, one time after another. It's not a question about Russian language, it's not a question that can have single accepted answer etc. etc. Try to ask similar question on English SE and see how it will be closed for being off-topic. It's not like here are some special set of rules I'm trying to come up with. Tend to ask one thing per post, tend to ask a something that is a question about Russian language - not about the meaning of a proverb (unless there's a misunderstanding on a linguistic level),
    – shabunc
    Nov 3 '19 at 17:22
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    @Mitsuko: You got the literal meaning right for all three proverbs, if that's what you're asking. Solving problems one step at a time, counting your chicken before they hatched and closing the stable door after the horse has bolted are a thing, I believe, in any language, there is nothing specifically Russian in them. Those are metaphors for certain behavior patterns. Whether those metaphors encourage or discourage this behavior depends on the context of their usage. They could be used ironically, sarcastically or at face value. Provide the context and we can help you figure it out.
    – Quassnoi
    Nov 4 '19 at 0:37
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    @Mitsuko you can ask me as well what I actually meant
    – shabunc
    Nov 4 '19 at 8:48
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    (1) basically means "do not spread thin; concentrate at a single task at once"; (2) "Don't be too self-assured; remember that you can fail too"; (3) is typically used in a negative context.
    – Matt
    Nov 4 '19 at 11:41
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    @Mitsuko and quite equally as many agree ;)
    – shabunc
    Nov 5 '19 at 9:42