Tough Questions

2007-07-31

Anti-Americanism is a fascinating psychological phenomenon. Case in point: American exchange students in Germany who are regularly subjected to a high-handed barrage of questions about the evils of American society from their host students. There are so many factors at play here: the immaturity of most students, the essential collectivism involved in stereotyping foreigners, envy of American success, and much else besides. Personally I'd turn the tables by asking some questions of my own:

Don't get me wrong. I think Germany is a fine country. I wish I had kept up my early studies of the German language so that I could read more materials in German as opposed to English translation. Underneath all the wrangling of present-day politics I think there is a fundamental affinity between America and Germany (after all, American civilization is downstream from England, and who are the English but a bunch of displaced Germans?). I like just about every German person I've ever gotten to know. I appreciate the frank, even brutal honesty of many German people. But I also wish that they would turn that honesty more often on their own society and focus on improving their own country rather than seeking a scapegoat in the USA.

And anti-Americanism is by no means limited to Germany; we could ask even more pointed questions about, say, some places in the Muslim world (e.g., 70 percent of people in the Palestinian territories think that suicide bombings are often or sometimes justified -- talk about a culture of death!).

Finally, I think the lasting answer is individualism: not stereotyping people from any given country or expecting any given individual to agree with or justify the actions of those in power, but engaging in honest and open dialogue with each person you talk with to understand their personal perspective. It's not easy, but it's the only approach that does justice to the fact that every person is unique. "Repeat after me: I am an individual." :-)


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