We elevate the individual; Europeans worship the group. We dream. Europeans fear. Indeed, the only belief that has been pronounced dead more often than religion is the American dream. Professors write its obituary almost daily. The rest of us live it.
Life isn't fair, of course. But too much enforced "fairness" robs life of its vitality. We Americans live in the one country where each of us, regardless of race or religion, has the chance to realize our potential. Reaching that potential is up to us. But our laws and our culture don't stand in our way.
There are, of course, many further differences between us and the Europeans, but the greatest other distinction relates to the first: American is the land of second chances. And of third, fourth and fifth chances, if only we have the gumption to seize them.
In Europe, there's little provision for late bloomers. The placement tests the student takes as a teenager determine his or her academic, economic and social fate to an extent that would spark another revolution in America.
Here, attending Harvard is no guarantee that you'll succeed in life - it just gives you a head start out of the gate. On the other hand, beginning your academic career at a community college doesn't mean you can't climb to the highest income levels.
Europeans accept their fates. Americans make their own.
Most Americans would be astonished if they understood how few opportunities there are for Europeans to pursue adult education, to change careers, to learn new skills - or to recreate their lives. It's an adult version of being forced to retain your identity in junior high school forever.
Thursday, August 14, 2003
Ralph Peters has an intriguing comparison of the differences between Americans and Europeans.
Posted by Betsy Newmark at 6:23 AM