Why do we hide our prosperity?

When we are asked how we view life, we complain that nothing is right. If you speak to a motorist, he will say that the situation on the roads is out of control, that all other drivers are potential killers behind the wheel. If you speak to a plumber, he’ll say that his life is hell, that he ekes out a meager existence with blood and sweat. If you speak to a taverna owner on an island, he will likely say that business is dead even though Greece is swarming with tourists. This image, though, is in stark contrast to what we see around us. All over the country, impressive mansions are springing up as testimony to our growing prosperity; luxury cars are multiplying (Greeks have more Land Rovers per head than the British); supermarket trolleys are overflowing with luxury items as our consumption rises at a rate of 20 percent a year (the highest rate in Europe); meanwhile Greeks own 11 million latest-technology mobile phone and iPods (more than one per citizen). Yet one could not imagine such morose citizens. This is not to say that poverty does not exist, or that the gap between rich and poor isn’t widening all the time, or that the nouveaux riches are not in debt (they owe a total of 90 billion euros to the country’s banks). The point is that those who complain about being unsatisfied are generally the better off among us. Why do we feel such a need to hide our prosperity? Why are we so fearful when things go well for us? Perhaps we are superstitious, still fearful of the «evil eye,» or the covetousness of our neighbor. We worry that if we admit to being happy, we will be punished for our good fortune. But these are the kinds of outlooks that emerge during long periods of obscurantism when people’s despair over their weakness to react to their suffering forces them toward the rejection of logic. But the last such period on record ended some 35 years ago. Perhaps our pessimism is something that has its roots in the distant past but has also infiltrated the younger generations. Greece has been through a lot. Centuries of slavery followed by a series of foreign interventions and humiliations. Others decided our future for us, others determined the course of this poor but strategically positioned country. A syndrome of subordination has long existed. It is generally accepted that our dependence is a given, that our struggles go unrecognized. But why such a need to show off? «Look at me, I have a maisonette, a yacht, admire me!» This is the flip side of the same coin. It seems that so many years under the Ottoman yoke have cultivated in us an inferiority complex which sometimes expresses itself as secretiveness, sometimes as crude ostentatiousness. Uneducated, volatile and easily manipulated, we are rarely self-confident, straightforward or happy. We don’t seem to realize that charisma and influence have nothing to do with worldly possessions but with education and social behavior.

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