I grew up in Germany in the 1970 through the early 90’s as my formative years. Formative in a sense that those were the years where I have recollection of experiences and events even today. I remember that we had multiple US military bases around us in Heidelberg and Mannheim. I remember, that the local paper along with the USO organized a basketball tournament every year with games being held in local German sport arenas and military arenas. Save for buying a ticket for about 5 bucks (Deutsche Mark, that really is), access was pretty much unrestricted and everyone, despite language barriers, had a good time. The tournament was meant to further the community between the American forces and the local populous. And it did do just that. Lots of GIs hooked up with German girls…and you can imagine where it went from there…yep, that’s right, keep going. I also remember that I saw back then my first bicycle with 15 gears, I heard my first blubbering Harley-Davidson, I saw my first Camaro (when the car still had character). Americans were so cool they cam in two colors black and white – imagine how cool that was to a 5 year. Nutella (European equivalent of Peanut butter, but way better) had a game hidden in its lids, that showed a classic picture of Manhattan with the World Trade Center in the foreground. My parents explained to me that at the time the twin towers were the highest buildings on the planet. They closed their little verbal excursion of Manhattan with the words:”Everything is bigger in America”.
America started to pull me in. I had an aunt, who after the second world war married an American. She had lived for 20 odd years in the states, had become a citizen and whenever we would visit her she exposed me to a different lifestyle. I was most impressed, that the TV usually ran while we were visiting and that she stuffed me with and endless supply of ice cream. She would also give my parents steaks occasionally – American steaks. T-Bone and Porterhouse, that were American sized (although, now I can be more specific, they were really Texas sized).
I also remember that we had a Lunar mission exhibition in my home town where my parents took me to. I was absolutely blown away by the fact that people had been to the same moon, I could see from my window and had driven this cool looking car on it.
In my teenage years (soundtrack by Van Halen, Mötley Crüe), when I got into climbing and later triathlon, my heros either went to America to define themselves or were American. The late Wolfgang Guellich, a German free climber, climbed a route called “Separate Reality” in Yosemite N. P. solo, which blew the rest of us away and put most routes in the Alps to a distant second. Scott Tinley was my triathlon hero with Mark Allen and Dave Scott a close second and third. Nothing was impossible in America. People dreamt big and did and the American lifestyle portrayed freedom of self-expression to me. Be what you want to be AND be all you can be, not one OR the other. America was also the land where technology originated from (although Japan made consumer electronics with American sounding names) and IBM was to me the employer of Milk And Honey, because my dad worked throughout his career with them and they invited me to spend time in their offices occasionally when my dad had to work on a Saturday – I loved it. Although the first computer I took my first programming steps on (because programming was all you could do back then) was my neighbor’s Apple II. From where I sat, America was humming Blue collar, white-collar, welders and engineers, everyone made America bigger.
The collection of these memories formed and solidified the impression that in America anything was possible – it was the place where big dreams are dreamt and realized. Now that I have lived here for more than 13 years, I still believe that America is the place that allows a person to realize his or her visions and dreams. I think it has to do with the a specific piece of heritage and a steady inflow of that specific heritage – Optimism, “the-glass-is-half-full”-ism.
When the large waves of immigrants came to this country 200 years, 150 and 100 years ago they did so taking on tremendous hardship. They left the soil they were born on, left family and friends in the hopes of realizing their dream of a better life – it wasn’t exactly the easy life in the home countries to begin with. Although, the majority of immigrants came here with very few riches, what they must have had in abundance was a drive to succeed, an iron-clad work ethic, optimism out the wazoo and of course the pressure that they had to make it, then things would turn out better here.
Meanwhile the countries the immigrant left, were left with those less courageous, may be less crazy (think about it, a person arrives at Ellis Island and then decides: “My fortunes are way farther west” , maybe in St. Louis or Denver or Salt Lake City or even San Francisco on foot, horse or carriage through the hot summers and harsh winters – crazy barely begins to describe it). Let’s just say, that those that stayed back were those less adventurous, their dreams were not as high-flying and fear of the unknown won over taking the risk. I think, that this attitude of taking on risk in order to follow your dream or vision or fantasy or whatever else you want to call IT became part of the cultural DNA of this country. It has been passed on from parents to their children for generations. In some areas it went may be a little over the top – like lawn mower racing or no replacement for displacement – but in general I think that this is the main reason, why big things in the last century have been initiated in this country.
Getting back to the earlier thought, that everything is bigger in America. Based on my observations having grown up in Europe, “Everything Is Bigger In America” is absolutely true, it is what America is most admired for and most despised and ridiculed for. America has the richest individuals in the world, has a considerable amount of very well off people, but at the same time it has also abject poverty that some people are aware off, but no one really cares about it. The divide between rich and poor is bigger than in most other countries. America has a large number of arguably the most recognized and admired universities in the world, but the K-12 system fails a lot of children, because unlike universities they are primarily funded by taxes, which makes the system very simple:High tax base = good schools, low tax base, = poor schools. I could go on, but the point I want to make is that America must dare to dream big again, that it must pick up the pursuit of becoming the Utopia that the early settlers had imagined it to be – Dream Big America!
- Don’t just have the best health care research, but find a way to make it accessible for all your citizens regardless of income.
- Do leverage the diverse composition of your people and their ideas to find solution to the biggest questions we face.
- Don’t just have the leading research universities, but leave your own children unable to compete against students form all over the world to get in.
- Do dare ask and explain why something is done and then how it’s done, so that the what you do is just a natural consequence of your convictions of the good you stand for.
- Don’t be afraid and isolate yourself but stand for the utopian world of milk and honey that you can be.
I’ll stop here right now and get the What Happened To Fearlessness part in my next posting. In the meantime, I would be more than happy to hear about your thoughts and comments.