What is the American Dream?

At one time I thought it meant the freedom pursue our interests and attempt to build the life we envisioned for ourselves and our families, without undue interference from others — private citizens or government officials.

There was no guarantee that you’d make it, but there was some assurance that our own government and others would not get in your way, so long as you didn’t get in the way of others.

The American Dream seemed to embody the fighting spirit.  To borrow an old cliche, if you got knocked of the horse, you got back on and tried again and didn’t whine about it.

It seemed everyone was expected to tend to their responsibilities.  Take care of your family and your home.  Raise your kids to be responsible and productive.  Don’t leave a mess.  When you visit someone’s home, respect their rules.

Folks did what they could to help others out.  Sometimes that meant giving them some short term relief from their unlucky circumstances (though even this was somehow understood to be temporary and that at some point the recipient would be expected to get on their own two feet again).  Sometimes it meant teaching the habits, skills and discipline that enabled them to come closer to their American Dream.

Over the decades, other ideas of the American Dream have come about.   Some folks seem to think the American Dream should be a life without struggle, risk, change, tough choices or hurt feelings where everyone is entitled to some “I-know-it-when-I-see-it” minimum standard of living regardless of their own choices and behaviors.

Now it seems, if we get knocked down, we look to blame someone.  We complain that there aren’t jobs for us.  Then when jobs do come , we complain that they don’t pay enough (never stopping to consider that it must be enough for the folks who agreed to work for that wage).

Or, if someone chooses ignore their responsibilities, we make excuses.  We view it as if not tending to their responsibilities is beyond their control or a systematic problem to be solved.  Instead of encouraging them to tend to their responsibilities, we seek to “change the system” to make it easier for them.  If a student doesn’t gain mastery of a subject in school, we assume there must be something wrong with the subject or the way it is taught, even though many others who did their homework or sought extra help, or both, didn’t seem to have a problem.

What is the American Dream?


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