The myth. The legend. The Reality.
Forever can the debates go. University classrooms filled to capacity with yawning, disinterested post-adolescents. Boys and girls, women and men, males and females, pick your politically correct terminology. It doesn’t matter because each and every one of them is neck deep trying to tread through the swollen rapids of the American Dream. Pull up your bootstraps and build your fortune from nothing.
Americans are fed the dream from birth starting with little glass bottles with funny names. The funny thing about those bottles is that they explode from a three inch fall yet survive from three feet or more. Coincidence?
Think what you will about it. Believe it or not, the American Dream is as real as the weather (and just as unpredictable and unruly). It’s a powerful myth. And some would argue that it is one of the few concepts wholly American, even though the idea came from somewhere else and burns brightest in the immigrants yearning for something new and different, searching for a life of freedom and expansion… and wealth.
I’ve always been suspicious of the American Dream. It’s a wonderful story and represents strong independence and engaging potential. I never bought it until now. But, I would like to change the name to the Human Dream. Although I should be careful: What gives me the right? Do I do own it because I was born in America? No. I don’t think so. I don’t think it can be owned. Each person I meet has the same basic desire to succeed at whatever it is that they do, because at the heart of it, the American Dream is about success, not financial wealth. It’s about being content, being satisfied with who you are, having a strong network of friends and relatives, knowing where and when your next meal will come from, feeling a sense of security.
But somewhere along the short timeline of American history the American Dream became the disgruntled employee pissing in a soft drink at a fast food joint because of the arrogance of a random stranger – or not – maybe they were just angry. Neither person has the American Dream. Whatever that dream may be to either one is unattainable because it is focused on quantity.
Suddenly I found myself abroad, living life every day the same as I always had, albeit in a different context. Each and every day I see people wake up, go to work, eat, and try to become, just like I do. Each one trying their hardest the way that worked for them. I also see plenty of missing and missed opportunities. There are still plenty of people unable or unwilling to find work. It is true, but it is beside the point.
The Human Dream exists as a little spark inside everybody and can be realized anywhere. In fact, where you are right now is the best place to realize it. Tomorrow you may be somewhere else, then realize it there. If you refuse to or can’t realize it where you are, then go to where you think you can.
But before you run out the door, the Human Dream needs to be revalued to focus on quality rather than quantity, reengineered to consider not just yourself but those closest to you, revamped with an understanding that the grass is not always greener, and edited by you to make it what you want it to be.
For me, my Human Dream didn’t exist before I traveled abroad. But I believe there was a faint flicker hibernating somewhere in the locked recesses of my heart. Time, thought, and opportunity helped me search for the key, which I apparently threw away years ago. It was a little rusty when I found it and the lock needed a little oil, but I finally opened that scary lock. Where I go from here I do not know, but I will carry that dream forward with me wherever I go.
I leave you with the wonderful spoken word artist, Suli Breaks.