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Here's the thing.

The American Dream has been twisted around and built up and made so impossible that not only is it something that can never really happen for most Americans, but it also lends itself to poisoning our sense of community.  After all, if 'you can do anything you want if you set your mind to it' is true, then those less fortunate must not have tried, right? If the only thing required for reward is ambition, then the homeless must just be lazy.  The jobless must not want to work, and the working poor must find it easier to complain about their lot in life than try to improve it.  This is all self-evident from the 'effort equals reward' concept that lies at the core of the current American Dream.

And that dream is bull.

We simply don't live in a world where all efforts are rewarded, where you can do anything you want in life if you want it badly enough and try your best, where we have fairytale endings.  We just don't.  We live in a world where you can study hard, throw yourself into your education, and finish the first in your class - but still accomplish nothing because you're not able to get enough scholarships to cover college expenses and your parents are working-class citizens who simply don't have the resources to help.  We live in a world where you can refine your craft and be the hardest worker in your field, and still never be taken seriously because you're a woman in tech.  We live in a world where you can do years of soul-searching to find out who you really are, find that one special someone who makes you feel complete, and still not be able to marry them because your state doesn't think gay people deserve rights.  We live in a world of random chance, bigotry, and institutionalized injustice.  We live in a world where the original American Dream can only come true for you if you are either born rich and white, or born very, very lucky.

We need a new dream.  We need to admit to ourselves that sometimes effort does not equal reward (though reward does still require effort), that the world is not a fair place, and that only a few dozen people will ever be astronauts, and chances are one of them isn't going to be you.  We need to admit to ourselves that the less fortunate didn't do anything to cause or deserve their situation in the vast majority of cases.  We need to admit that many who lose themselves in alcohol or drug abuse don't choose their lives, they wind up there either through mental illness or the entirely understandable desire to just escape for a few minutes, and never realizing until it is too late the lasting cost of their escape.  We need to understand that the woman selling her body to afford food and shelter for her child needs options, not a sex offender rap (Thanks, CA Prop 35).  We need to finally admit to ourselves and to our next generation that sometimes, no matter how hard you try or how much you want to succeed, sometimes it isn't going to happen, and that it is not a personal failure.  It's just how it is sometimes.

We need to make our American Dream a little more real if we want to pass it on to future generations without setting them up for failure and misery.  We need to reach out to those less fortunate instead of shunning them for imagined offenses.  We need to remember that we are members of a society, and that we all benefit when 'yucky' problems like fiscal injustice and worker exploitation are fixed.  We need to remind ourselves that not everybody needs to be a doctor or a lawyer or a fireman.  After all, someone's got to be the sanitation worker or the electrician, and these are also worthy careers - and in fact pay pretty darn well if you have the skill and drive.  And as long as you are succeeding by whatever ambitious but realistic goals you set for yourself, and you're being a helpful member of your community by helping who you can, how you can - well that sounds like something worth dreaming about.

Originally posted to popecrunch on Wed Nov 07, 2012 at 04:23 PM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

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Comment Preferences

  •  The delicate balance between dreams and reality (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    slb36cornell, RUNDOWN, cantelow, chantedor

    is perhaps one of the most difficult things we need to teach our children.  I think it boils down to resilience.  Yes, it is so true that very few people will be able to become an astronaut - but hundreds of thousands can find a career in aviation or space technology. (See the movie "October Sky"' based on the wonderful book "Rocket Boys".). Resilience enables people to focus on a goal and persevere, but also to be able to recognize that the path forward may need to be modified - or that the goal itself may need to be modified as well.

    "I'll be more enthusiastic about encouraging thinking outside the box when there's evidence of any thinking going on inside it." Terry Pratchett

    by kiwiheart on Thu Nov 08, 2012 at 05:01:20 AM PST

  •  America needs to wake up first (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shaharazade
    "We know more about war than we do about peace. We know more about killing than we do about living."
    General Omar Bradley

    White-collar conservatives flashing down the street, pointing their plastic finger at me..

    by BOHICA on Thu Nov 08, 2012 at 05:29:06 AM PST

  •  It's not the dream itself that's the problem... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nick Lento

    but the misconception that the dream is reality. We shouldn't take it for granted, but rather seek to make it real, make it achievable for all, not just the fortunate* few. We need politicians that focus on forming "a more perfect union" rather than those who crow about how great America is today. We need a government that doesn't merely get out of the way, but gives people the tools to succeed, and a safety net so that when we fail, we can get up and try again. That's what America should be about.

    Liberty and justice for all.

    by slb36cornell on Thu Nov 08, 2012 at 06:34:22 AM PST

    •  *fortunate has a double meaning: (0+ / 0-)

      It includes people like Romney who got a head start due to wealth, connections, and status...but it also includes people like Obama who achieved success despite his family's lack of wealth and status, through a combination of talent, effort, and--yes--good fortune. As the OP said, sometimes talent and effort aren't enough.

      Liberty and justice for all.

      by slb36cornell on Thu Nov 08, 2012 at 06:37:05 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I was thinking that too when I heard this last (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    RUNDOWN, Annalize5

    speech. What does that say about those who try and fail, perhaps through no fault of their own? It is a bad way to phrase it. They have a shot at it, maybe.

    But in life we are often only lucky to have a shot at doing what we want to do in life. Often circumstances and responsibilities towards others keep us from pursuing "dreams" or aspirations.

    "extreme concentration of income is incompatible with real democracy.... the truth is that the whole nature of our society is at stake." Paul Krugman

    by Gorette on Thu Nov 08, 2012 at 07:27:57 AM PST

  •  The "dream" never changed. (4+ / 0-)

    The Righties want us to believe that having the "most cash possible" is the dream, or having the most junk - the "consumption society".

    All this "greed is good" nonsense, which nearly destroyed us with consumer debt.

    Because of this "dream" nonsense - we have shows like "Storage Wars".

    For most people, the dream is living a comfortable life, raising a loving family, and contributing to a strong community.

    Romney's assault on community service professionals like teachers and fire fighters, and the working class - reveals this well.

    If not us ... who? If not here ... where? If not now ... when?

    by RUNDOWN on Thu Nov 08, 2012 at 07:36:20 AM PST

  •  John Fogerty pointed this out decades ago ... (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shaharazade

    Songwriters: JOHN C. FOGERTYSome folks are born to wave the flag,
    Ooh, they're red, white and blue.
    And when the band plays "Hail to the chief",
    Ooh, they point the cannon at you, Lord,

    It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no senator's son, son.
    It ain't me, it ain't me; I ain't no fortunate one, no,
    Yeah!

    Some folks are born silver spoon in hand,
    Lord, don't they help themselves, oh.
    But when the taxman comes to the door,
    Lord, the house looks like a rummage sale, yes,

    It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no millionaire's son, no.
    It ain't me, it ain't me; I ain't no fortunate one, no.

    Some folks inherit star spangled eyes,
    Ooh, they send you down to war, Lord,
    And when you ask them, "How much should we give?"
    Ooh, they only answer More! more! more! yoh,

    It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no military son, son.
    It ain't me, it ain't me; I ain't no fortunate one, one.
    It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no fortunate one, no no no,
    It ain't me, it ain't me, I ain't no fortunate son, no no no

  •  What, you mean we can't all be the 1% (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Nick Lento

    If only we work hard enough?

    What a downer.  Feels suspiciously like math.  

    Are you promoting a liberal math agenda?  

    Are you now or have you ever been a member of a math-based organization?

    ------
    Ideology is when you have the answers before you know the questions.
    It is what grows into empty spaces where intelligence has died.

    by Alden on Thu Nov 08, 2012 at 08:38:04 AM PST

  •  The "American" Dream is a Flawed Meme... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    shaharazade, progressivist, Annalize5

    What's needed is a global ideal of what it means to be a human being.  An ideal that transcends nationality/race etc etc.

    The stereotypical American Dream is a tribute to egoism, materialism and jingoism....and that's just for starters.

  •  Excellent~! (0+ / 0-)

    The voice of sanity never sounded sweeter. Thanks for this.

  •  Dreaming of adding vision care and dental care to (0+ / 0-)

    Medicare and Obamacare.

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