Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The American Dream...

If you Google The American Dream is Dead you will get a whole list of articles to back up that claim. I know that because I was looking for an article I just read in Time a few weeks about about the death of the American Dream and when I went looking for it I didn't find the article in Time but a whole host of other articles. And I just spent a very depressing hour and a half reading them.

Seems like the American Dream is dead because we have gotten too liberal in our belief systems, we don't stress the importance of marriage and having a father in the house and it's dying because our schools are failing because we are spending too much money on wars and the conservatives want to send what funds we have left in to a voucher system so that the kids and money that could be used to improve our public school system will go towards private schools which will only widen the gap and keep more and more people from buying a house which they can't afford but got approved for anyway because there wasn't enough regulation in the banking industry which led to the collapse of Wall Street which can only recover if there is even less regulation I mean more regulation no wait, I mean less regulation and we allow or don't allow them to be too big to fail or not fail and if we could strengthen the unions or weaken them that would surely help and....

Are you sort of getting my point here? You can read any number of articles on why the American Dream is dying and they all point fingers to different issues. It's not our fault, it's theirs. It's not their fault it's them over there. And the more I read the more I started to wonder, what the hell is the American Dream anyway? I mean seriously. We've all heard it tossed around all of our lives, but what is it? Do we all have the same one? So I looked that up as well and this is what I found:

a·mer·i·can dream
noun  The traditional social ideals of the United States, such as equality, democracy, and material prosperity.

and this (from Wikipedia):

The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States; a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility achieved through hard work. In the definition of the American Dream by James Truslow Adams in 1931, "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.
The idea of the American Dream is rooted in the United States Declaration of Independence which proclaims that "all men are created equal" and that they are "endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights" including "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Okay, so now we know what it is. Sort of. And this is where it gets tricky right? This is where the basis for all of the other arguments come from. What is equality? What is the opportunity for prosperity and success and upward mobility? When does it become so difficult to escape your situation that the opportunity becomes an improbability? The regardless of social class or circumstances of birth part is especially hard. And then there are those that will point at the "hard work" portion and scream about people wanting everything just "given to them!"

Well to that I have to say that the funny thing is the jobs I have had in my life where I worked the hardest, I mean physically drained at the end of the day, sore feet, sore back, sore head were the ones where I got paid the least. So financial prosperity through hard work doesn't always happen. Yes, there are always people you can point to who came from poor backgrounds and worked themselves up the chain and are now business owners and quite successful, but let's be honest here, you can point at people who were born wealthy, had every opportunity and are now broke as well. So does that mean anything? To point to the outliers?

And what is better? My better could be your worse. We all know people who complain about being broke or how tight things are who drive nice cars, go on fabulous trips, are always going to see the latest band or try the newest restaurant and we think, "I'd like to be broke like you." And there are people who are quite content with what they have because it's "enough" but you might think that their "enough" just isn't.

Brent and I had this discussion a few months ago. I am really happy with where I am in life. I have a lovely house, a nice car that starts every time I need it to, money in my pocket, food in my belly and I don't sweat the bills or the bill collector showing up at my door. This is upward mobility for me. I'm doing much better than I ever dreamed I would. My reality growing up was working more than one job to barely make ends meet and many months they wouldn't. Driving a car that you had to start with a ritual and a few lighted candles and prayers. So my American Dream seems to be working out.

But what about my son's? What will his be like? He's two years into a four year degree, which is more than I have so he is better off there. But it's less than his dad's MBA so he is worse off there. We have no idea what the job market will be like when he graduates but are hopeful he will find a position in the field he loves. Will he make more than his dad and I did? Depends on what time you take the snapshot of what we made. At his age I was in college getting my accounting degree and his dad was in the Navy. When he graduates he will be the age we were when I was working as a full charge bookkeeper and his dad was still in the service. Will his job make him better off than we were or worse? And when do you start counting? Will he be able to own a house? Will he even want to? What about his kids?

And if we go back to the definition of the American Dream (which isn't it funny that the definition didn't come about until the 1930's was there no dream before that? Sort of blows the whole "founding father's wanted this!" argument out of the water doesn't it?) and it says, "better, richer and fuller" and why do we automatically assume that means money? Can't your life be better, richer and fuller without it? By doing things that make you happy? There's that pursuit of happiness angle as well. We have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. There is nothing in there about the right to make more money than everyone else. Why do we always assume it's money that drives the dream? Are you really happiest when you are at the bank? For me I am happiest when I am at the beach. Or on the couch. Or eating a brownie. Or laughing at a funny movie. Or listening to my husband and son riff on the world to the point where I am giggling like a fiend. Or sitting at my computer rambling away in my blog while the birds are eating at their feeder outside my window and my cat is sleeping in my lap

So I don't have any answers for you but just questions. What is YOUR American Dream? Or your Scottish Dream? Or your Australian Dream? Or Canadian Dream? Or your (fill in your country here) Dream? And do you think it's dead? And if it is what can you do to revive it and would that then make them Zombie Dreams?

To my American friends I hope you enjoy your 4th of July celebrations tomorrow and I hope for just part of the day you are experiencing your right to pursue happiness. Actually, I hope all of my friends have that tomorrow. You just might not get the fireworks with it....

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