My close friends know I’ve spent some time bashing the American Dream. I’ve written words like “The American Dream is not my cup of Tea” and felt the pursuit of the American Dream was wasting a lot people’s lives.
Then I made the mistake of actually trying to define it. I mean, if I’m going to bash it, and build a life based on NOT chasing the American Dream, I should know exactly what I’m avoiding, right?
My idea of the American Dream is a desire to build a life with more stuff.
Bigger houseBetter car or threeBetter neighborhood for the bigger houseBetter schools for the kidsSecond house someplace nice, maybe with a lake or mountaintopA nice boat and a truck to tow itThe latest computer or smartphoneHome gym equipmentLarger collection of clothes and shoes
Feel free to add your own things, but I thought the American Dream was all about stuff that can be bought. It’s about fighting and climbing my way to the mountain-top of financial success. The “ideal” life, that I purposefully built in a way that can be easily compared to other people. A life that allows me to demonstrably say “I’m more successful than those people, I’m smarter than him, I didn’t make that mistake.” It’s all about keeping up with the jones’, right?
Let’s look at how other people define the American Dream, just to be sure I’m being fair and equitable in my arguments against it.
Starting with Wikipedia:
The idea of the American Dream is rooted in the US 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.”
Wow, I’m having a rather hard time arguing with that. It sounds pretty nice actually. I definitely support the principle of universal equality (also known as egalitarianism), and the ideas of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness” are central to ways I’m building my life and suggesting you build yours. The whole idea of living a fairy tale life implies that you have the liberty and capacity to pursue your own personal idea of happiness.
Let’s check Dictionary.com:
The ideals of freedom, equality, and opportunity traditionally held to be available to every American.
A life of personal happiness and material comfort as traditionally sought by individuals in the US.
World English Dictionary: The notion that the American social, economic, and political system makes success possible for every individual.
How about Merriam-Webster:
“an American social ideal that stresses egalitarianism and especially material prosperity; also: the prosperity or life that is the realization of this ideal. Example: <with the acquisition of a big house in the suburbs, they felt as though the American Dream had indeed become a reality for them.”
Ok finally! Now I have something I can bash! It’s not all about the big house in the suburbs! It’s not all about material prosperity! There is more to life than mere consumerism and materialism and having more stuff to dust and maintain.
Look Self Satisfied!
If I’d read the Merriam-Webster definition first, I might have stopped researching and written a very different post. Instead, I’d read that part from the Declaration of Independence, I’d read the part about egalitarianism and how each person has the freedom to choose their own path, their own life, with or without a fairy tale focus or ending.
Somewhere in researching the definition of the American Dream, I’d rediscovered my childhood patriotism. That wild idea that each and every person can define and choose their own dreams, IS the American Dream. The equality that allows each of us to pursue our own personal dreams with some significant chance of success. The freedom that allows us to be who we want to be, and not worry about oppression or punishment.
The things I’ve rejected from the American Dream don’t actually seem to be a part it. It would seem that those things are actually part of other concepts and maybe I misunderstood. Maybe a lot of us misunderstood. Those things seem to relate more to materialism and consumerism than to the American Dream.
In fact, I think I’ll stop right here and say that I have once again fallen in love with the American Dream and in many ways what I want to do with my life is to spread the ideals and possibilities of the American Dream to people who wouldn’t otherwise have access. Sometimes sitting back and trying to define concepts and ideas you take for granted can be really beneficial. I’ll have to write a separate post about my materialism and consumerism concerns.
Don’t get me wrong, I think as americans we have to remember that the second word here is dream. In the real world there are many things that have kept the United States from truly realizing that dream, and I’m not entirely confident we’re getting any closer to our goals. But the dream itself seems like a noble one. I’m willing to embrace it and move on to fight other battles on another day.
What are your thoughts?