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Reader feedback: A history of discouragement

Re: Slovaks the gloomiest, By David Ferguson, March 1 - 7, 2004, Vol 10, No 8

Having grown up in Slovakia during the socialist years and having lived in the US for the last 11, I believe that the biggest obstacle to optimism in Slovakia is fear. People were raised in fear of the socialist regime; many teachers instilled fear in their students by constantly reprimanding them for even simple things like asking questions. And this is still happening - my 16-year-old nephew was called stupid by his math teacher for asking a simple question the other day.

During socialism you were strongly encouraged not to stick out from the crowd, not to attract any attention to yourself, and you were forced to rely on the state for your well-being. Hence people felt powerless, not at all in control of their lives and future. This has stayed with most people to this day and many of the older ones have passed this on to their children.

This became very apparent to me after living in the US for a while, when I realised how fearful I was, how I was constantly apologising for myself, and how I was terrified to make any mistakes. When a problem arose I thought it was impossible, (or nearly impossible) to solve it.

You can imagine how sick of my fearfulness I gradually became and although I am not yet at 100 percent, I take plenty of risks now in the company I own, and when the hard times strike I just keep forging ahead because I know they will turn around. But I have been exposed to the infectious American optimism for years now, so I cannot expect people who haven't had this exposure to act as if they grew up in a confident, self-assured country where you are encouraged to express yourself, to take your life in your own hands, and not to give up when something goes wrong. In other words, where you feel that you control your future (at least to a point).

I don't want to paint an unrealistically utopian picture of the US here, there are plenty of things to criticise too, but the country's optimism is truly a gift to be cherished and emulated.

Chicago, USA

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