A Hero with a Blind Spot

A Hero with a Blind Spot

Peter Schneider

Fifteen years ago, as I was setting off to visit the United States for my first extended stay, a knowledgeable...

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Fifteen years ago, as I was setting off to visit the United States for my first extended stay, a knowledgeable friend gave me the following advice about the difference between the United States and Germany: "When you enter a house for the first time in America, you begin 10 points ahead, but can quickly drop to zero. In Germany, you start 10 points in the hole and have a decent chance of working yourself up to zero."

His rule of thumb was confirmed. Anyone who has sent a child to school in the United States has observed the effects of the psychological drug called "high expectations": "You´re good! We believe in you! You can do things others can´t! In fact, you can do anything, be anyone--Michael Jordan or Bill Gates or the president!" It´s easy to challenge this sort of naive American dreaming, which, in any case, Americans don´t take literally. Europeans fail to understand that the unreal career promises represent a frame of mind: "The world lies open before you. Grab hold of it. You´ll see its limits soon enough."

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