The Dark Side Optimists Are Idiots

Nobody can beat the Germans when it comes to pessimism. And forget about being happy -- here it's merely a sign of stupidity.

It never fails. You're all excited about something, it could be anything really: a new suitor, a fabulous job opportunity, even a great idea. Of course you want to tell people about it -– and you euphorically explain it to one of your German friends.

The response is not likely to be the one you're looking for.

And it can be direct:

  • That’ll never work.
  • All guys in business are emotionally cold anyway, don’t get involved with him.
  • That entire industry is going down the tubes.

It can be insulting:

  • That’s stupid.
  • Only an idiot would try that.

It can be pseudo-intellectual:

  • According to Nietzsche, God is dead, the world sucks, we’re all doomed. It's no use to even try.
  • Romantic love is just a vestigial construct of the Victorian era; human nature runs counter to long-standing relationships.

Or a personal favorite, which someone actually told this author once:

  • Anyone with any intelligence could never be as happy as you.

You suddenly feel flaccid. As if a long, sharp needle has punctured your enthusiastic bubble, leaving your optimism disembowelled, mutilated and lifeless. You wonder how dense you could have possibly been to think that this relationship, this job, this idea would ever be viable. Obviously, you think to yourself in your moment of self-doubt, you didn’t think it through enough. You feel confused, hesitant, at worst truly depressed. Depending on where you’re from, you realize you are probably just a ridiculously optimistic American, a flippant Brit or a superficial Australian who’s spent far too much time in the sun.

Germans take a strange pride in their ability to celebrate the bummer  -- and it all goes back a long, long way. Charred linings found in the fluffiest white clouds can be found not only in present-day personal conversations but in nearly every art form throughout Teutonic history. Such cheerful pieces of German literature as Goethe’s 1774 Sturm und Drang hit "Die Leiden des jungen Werthers" ("The Sorrows of Young Werther"), which allegedly spurred a rash of suicides after its appearance, or Nietzsche’s 19th-century nihilism are hardly exceptions.

German opera is no different, with most long-winded productions ending in a finale of flames of doom -- or a beached whale like in a recent Stuttgart production of Wagner's "Siegfried." And it goes on: In Berlin, the just-ended blockbuster art exhibition at the New National Gallery was called "Melancholie." One of the top German films last season was "Requiem." Sigh. Even Berlin graffiti is full of it: One message scrawled on a wall in the hip neighborhood of Friedrichshain reads: Ist eh alles scheisse -- or "Everything is shit anyway."

Although it’s clear that German history hasn’t always been a happy affair, why all the brooding and nay saying? As a native once explained, always looking at the dark side of life may indicate depth, critical thinking and a certain “intelligent” caution –- things that have always been very dear to the security-loving German heart and the logic-loving German head.

Deep down inside, however, it seems as if even the most pessimistic Germans yearn for a certain Leichtigkeit (lightness) that their apparently genetic neuroses, cultural heritage, perhaps even inherent fears of erring, make difficult for them to achieve in their everyday lives (notice their zeal for mandated fun like Carnival or soccer games, or propensity to go stark raving mad while abroad). The only tack to take is to show them that there is, indeed, another way.

The next time a German bursts your bubble, let out a big belly laugh and tell him or her to lighten up. If necessary, provide a half-liter bottle of Beck’s as mental lubrication. Grab a poor timid native who’s standing stiffly at the edge of the dance floor and make them mimic your wildest moves. Go ahead and try your “stupid, crazy” idea anyway and make millions of dollars, demonstrating that you don’t have to shoot yourself in the foot before you even get started.

Despite initial resistance, they’ll ultimately love you for it.

Kimberly Bradley

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