Something that’s been difficult for me to get used to since coming to the States has been all that boundless optimism. Not that optimism is a bad thing, not at all. But in America it gets a little over the top. It seems there’s always another inspirational story of the person who just lost her home and job, lost both her legs in a car accident and was diagnosed with a terminal illness, but still managed to crawl her way through a Marathon using only her arms to pull herself along, with a big smile on her face. Even though she was homeless, she still managed to collect enough donations to participate! And the key phrase in these tales: “And she never complained.”
Well, maybe she should have complained. I’m just saying. Of course endless bitching doesn’t do anything for you, but it’s human to complain when you’re in a bad situation. It’s a bit Stepford Wife-like to go through it with a fake smile plastered on. It gets even worse when this concept is used in the “We are the 49%” context. Remember that website—it was supposed to be the conservative response to the “whining”of Occupy Wall Street, and it was filled with stories like “I have to work 3 jobs just to survive, I get no health benefits and I sleep in a garage. And I never complain, you wimps!” Well, again, you *should* complain. If you’re getting screwed over by the society you live in and you don’t complain, you’re not an optimist, you’re a doormat. Not to mention that if the things which are happening around you are dishonest and morally wrong, not to complain is to comply with whatever is going on. If I were a cynical European (heh), I could even say that the optimism myth is used to keep people passive…nahhh, right? “No matter how much they’re stomping on you, act happy! Smile!”
Okay, so I should add that my attitude toward American optimism is not that completely…well, pessimistic. Some of my difficulties come from the way I was raised. When I was a little girl and my parents would get together with their friends, their favorite activity, besides chain-smoking through the night, was that of making witty quips about the meaninglessness of life, and how it always ends in disaster. It’s not that they were gloomy—they would spend plenty of time laughing at the absurd joke that was human existence. I guess you can’t blame them for doing so in the drabness of the Soviet bloc, but this kind of cynicism is a general Euro-habit. I’m automatically suspicious of too much positive thinking…there *can’t* be a happy ending to all of this.
I’m not saying this was a good way to grow up, and I like how determined Americans are, how they believe they can achieve greatness and that no matter what obstacles are thrown in their path, if they put in their best effort, they can overcome them. That is the good side of American optimism, and a quality I admire. I just hate to see the powerful using the innate optimism of this country’s citizens to hoodwink them. I like Americans too much to watch this happen to them…without complaining about it.