This morning, a good friend and shipmate asked this question on Facebook:
“Can you explain to me what the American Dream is? I fought for it for 21 years, but what is IT.”
I had just finished my time on the treadmill and it struck me that I am living my American Dream. Here was my response:
‘This morning I woke up in my home and had little fear that either the police or an enemy would come and unexpectedly rob me of my freedom. I can sit at this keyboard after choosing to exercise for an hour and shortly go upstairs and make the coffee. Then we will sit down and study the Book of Hosea followed by a prayer. Again, no secret police will come charging through my screen door to take that Bible away from me. The American dream is where we are all working towards a goal of freedom to be left alone when we want to and protected from bigger evils when we need to. God Bless America.’
Thanks Michael Beaver for the inspiration and motivation for today. Since this is graduation season for so many young people starting out in life, it seemed kind of appropriate.
Who gets to live the American dream?
There are many in America today who feel they are not living an American Dream. There is probably some truth to that if you believe the description I wrote above. Circumstances for each of us are different. How we were raised, our family life, our neighborhoods, educational opportunity and on and on are definite factors on where we begin our dream. These things all make up part of our individual journeys. But do they rule the outcomes? Are they precursors to predestination?
I have shared before that I was raised in a middle class American family where we had rules and a strict adherence to a moral code. There were consequences for bad behavior and they were both swift and convincing. We went to church together every week and did more than just sit in the pews. We ate together as a family every night around an actual table and we worked as a family unit on chores and fun things. Even as a teenager, your mood and attitude were not licenses to skirt the expected family norms. There was never a question that God was present in our homes and in our lives. We prayed over meals, life decisions and tragedies and we did it as a family.
Mom and Dad insisted we knew the value of charity in the community and responsibility to judge people from a broad perspective instead of just the typical confines of race, creed, religion or sex. The week that Martin Luther King was killed, Dad asked us to forgo our traditional Easter candy and celebration and use the money for a local community church that was struggling. It was the last time I remember seeing an Easter basket as we continued that tradition in the following years. It was only one of many things we did as a family to show our concern for others.
The American Dream is freedom to succeed or freedom to choose failure.
Our history is filled with people who came from rough circumstances and used the power of the dream to overcome and prosper. Even people who have made mistakes along the way can still overcome those mistakes and be something more than what life defined for them in that moment. A jail sentence does not have to be a death sentence. A serious illness does not mean a life defined as crippled. A missed opportunity does not mean that no more opportunities will ever come again. Even being raised in a single parent home did not condemn Dr. Ben Carson to a life of crime or obscurity.
The American dream is more than the material achievements we see all around us. They certainly do mark a level of success but the longevity of that success is still a cautionary tale. Fortunes may change with the passing of time. The real mark of living the American Dream is the unmistakable character that comes with real wisdom. Character was once defined as doing the right thing when no one is looking. That is the symbol of the American Dream fulfilled.
The most basic freedom
In America, you are free wallow in pity for your past and moan about the unfortunate circumstances that life has dealt to you. We are a generous people with a bias to protecting and preserving and protecting the helpless and sometimes “hopeless” that struggle to find their American Dream. Even pampered overpaid athletes can kneel on the sidelines to protest real and imagined grievances. But one lesson of life that keeps being repeated over and over again is this:
Dreams start inside of each of us.
The secret to achieving the dream
A dream to gain an education begins with the understanding that you have to have the desire to learn. Then you have to have a desire to overcome the obstacles that you find on your path to learning. Finally, you need to invest in your dream every single day and never stop living in ways that will help to achieve that dream.
Now, substitute your goal for the word “education” in that first sentence. Any goal. Following that path will help you to not only reach your goal but to exceed it beyond your wildest belief. Look around you. The evidence is everywhere.
Here is the alternative
- Do nothing.
- Choose someone else’s dream and moan about the fact that it is out of your reach when you don’t actually do a damn thing to achieve it.
- Let every obstacle become an excuse.
- Assign as much blame as possible to others: Blame the system for each failure and let bitterness absorb the light of your soul. Important things to blame include your parents, your genetic makeup (too small, too tall, too slow, too weak), the community, the government, churches, your school (or the one you couldn’t get into), history, the weather, the color of your skin, your sex (or lack of clarity of what your sex is), capitalism, things that are unfair, drugs, alcohol, opioids, and “fill in the blank”.
- Remember to never actually blame yourself. How could that even be possible???
The most critical component of the alternative to the American Dream is to just give up.
You’ll never reach it anyway, so what’s the use in trying.
Your plan will include waiting for a government check and a house you didn’t earn and medical care that is somehow your “right” even though at no time in the history of mankind has free and universal health care ever been a right. If you are lucky you can get an all-expense paid education in a state run school that you will do little to contribute to in either effort or substance and at some point go to work for a government agency with a strong public service employee union to protect you from being fired. (By the way, I know that there are some good people who chose government service as a career who did so out of an actual desire to serve their fellow people. I apologize to those who can genuinely claim that as their motivation).
While some may view that as a “dream” the reality is that it is a nightmare of the worst kind.
You get to choose. Every single day.
The American Dream is what you define it in your life. Having lived and worked in many countries around the world, I can assure you that it is uniquely American. And most important of all, it is worth fighting and sacrificing for each and every day.