Welcome to Big Old Goofy World . . . a place where I can share my thoughts, hopes, and dreams about this rock that we live on and call home.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Out of Reach—the American Dream

In its simplest form the “American Dream” is the belief that with hard work and the freedom to pursue one’s destiny one can achieve success and provide better opportunities for one’s children.  The “American Dream” was a term coined by historian/writer James Truslow Adams in his 1931 book, The Epic of America . . . and we Americans have been clinging to it ever since.  It is as ingrain in our DNA as baseball, hot dogs, and apple pie . . . we believe it with every ounce of our being.  The only problem, if we are going to be truthful to ourselves, is that it is out of reach for the majority of us . . . few of us can actually afford it.

According to an article written by the newspaper conglomerate USA Today (http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/07/04/american-dream/11122015/) the “American Dream” would cost an average family of four approximately $130,357 a year.  This is based on computing the average cost for essentials (housing, groceries, car expenses, medical expenses, education expenses [for two children], apparel, and utilities), extras (family vacation, entertainment, restaurants, cable, satellite, internet, cell sphone, and miscellaneous cost), and taxes/savings (things like a 401k plan).  If a person has more than two children that cost of the “American Dream” increases proportionally.  Now the median income for a household in the United States is about $51,000. In their analysis USA Today figures that one out of eight households earned that much income in 2013 or 12.5% of the population of the United States.  Only 12.5% of Americans actually came close to the “American Dream”, while the other 87.5% were . . . well, dreaming about it.  The dream has become unaffordable for the average American.

I am not sure that the “American Dream” is still that ability is to pursue one’s destiny to the point that it will be successful and provide better opportunities for those doing the pursuing and those whose future hinges on it.  No, I think that the “American Dream” . . . at least for those of us down here in the pits struggling to get by . . . has become survival.  We want to survive and hopefully have something to show for it all when the end actually comes.  I know that that is the case for the wife and I . . . together we barely make half of what it takes to reach the “American Dream”.  I guess half of the dream is better than none of it.

I like what author John Steinbeck wrote: “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.”  Now, I might not agree with Steinbeck’s politics, but I appreciate the sentiment he is expressing . . . those of us pursuing the “American Dream” cannot see the hole we are in because we do not see ourselves as being on the short end of the stick . . . we see ourselves as “temporarily embarrassed millionaires” who have not yet made it to that one percent.  The truth of the matter is that the deck is stacked against us and we might never reach that one percent much less the “American Dream”.

The problem with the “American Dream” is that we Americans have misinterpreted what Adams was actually trying to say.  We, Americans, have come to understand the “American Dream” in terms of financial rewards and security.  That is not what Adams said.  Adams said that the American Dream is "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement . . . It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."

In all honesty I struggle with the “American Dream” as most people in the United States interprets it . . . though, in even more honesty, I have to admit that I let myself embrace that dream from time to time . . . I engage in wishful thinking from time to time.  Yet, the reality is that it is a pretty tough dream to accomplish on what most of us make . . . and, at what most of us make would we be willing to sacrifice everything to accomplish it because for most of us it would be taking on more employment . . . we wouldn’t even have time to appreciate it or enjoy it.  I have a hard time embracing this idea of the “American Dream” when understood primarily on financial security.  It just is not going to happen.

On the other hand, in understanding the “American Dream” as Adams intended it, I can embrace that ideal . . . “It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."  Sounds almost biblical . . . like something that Jesus would say . . . to become fully who God created us to be . . . to be accepted for being the best “us” we can be.  That is an “American Dream” that I can pursue . . . and, in a sense, one I have been pursuing most of my life.  It has not brought me wealth in the old bank account, but has made me a wealthy person in life experience.  I have been well blessed in this life that I have pursued.

The “American Dream” is not about money . . . though many of us believe that it is.  The “American Dream” is about the freedom to be the best “you” that you can be . . . to come to full realization of who it is that God created any of us to be . . . to be loved, accepted, and respected for who we are.  But, there is not much financial security in such a dream . . . but, God will provide.  The wife and I have never made the money that others with our education have made mainly because we chose to pursue God’s will in our lives as ministers.  Yet, at the same time, we have always had what we needed when we needed it . . . always had food to feed our family . . . money to pay our bills . . . medical care when it was necessary . . . we have always been taken care of despite our low wages.  God has provided as we have done whatever it was that was necessary to live the “dream”. 

Both the wife and I are getting too old to pursue the “American Dream” as most people understand it.  We do not have enough working years to make the sort of money that we would need to reach the “American Dream”.  Shoot!  At the rate we are going we will probably have to work up to the day they drop us six feet under.  Yet, we could not have asked for a better life . . . a more blessed life.  We have a wonderful family that love us as much as we love them . . . we have people in our lives who make us feel fulfilled . . . we have grandchildren that give us hope for the future . . . we have laughter and lots of good times.  We have each other.  We are richer than we ever imagined we could be.  We are becoming who God wants us to be . . . or as Adams states, we are attaining the fullest stature of who we are capable of being.  We are living the real “American Dream”. 

In the eyes of God that is what counts.  So it should be for all of us . . . to embrace what really counts.  I have never attended a funeral yet in which someone’s bank account is shared as his or her greatest accomplishment.  No, what I have heard is that they were the best that they could be at being themselves . . . and, that is what people loved and respected.  That is the “American Dream”.  When we accept this . . . well, we are living the “American Dream”.  What more could we ever want?

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