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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

The American Dream

Politicians are particularly given to mentioning the “American Dream.” They intone the term sonorously as if to convey to the masses that it is simply a pipe dream, unattainable to the average person living in America. My reply: Nonsense!

Historian and writer James Truslow Adams coined the phrase, “American Dream,” in his 1931 book The Epic of America; “The American Dream is that 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 a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and 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.”

So then, whether or not a person actually improves their lot in life, they can still be reaching for the stars, in a manner of speaking. The journey of life may well offer a person the opportunity to achieve higher education through scholarships, talent and hard work, or a fabulously wealthy income for services rendered or talents rewarded. Or it may be something as simple, yet profound, as escaping from tyranny and despotism in order to breathe the intoxicating air of freedom. How many immigrants to these shores were gratified in knowing their progeny, their offspring, would have advantages to succeed in life, regardless of race, creed, class, or religious belief.

Consider the fact that anyone in America can rise to the top of the social/political chimera by hard work, grit and determination. They can rub elbows with the rich and famous. They can eat in the finest restaurants; belong to the most exclusive clubs; and drive the sleekest car into the garage of the most elegant of homes.

The American Dream is identified and defined differently by each individual. For many, it is a matter of escaping the oppressiveness of governments that refuse to allow people to worship as they choose. For others it is to have a new start in life because their old country opportunities for bettering oneself are hampered due to class or economic status. The American West of a hundred and thirty years ago was still very wild and untamed. Yet there were men and women who risked everything to have a chance of living in a free land. It was not at all uncommon to encounter men and women from various pedigreed European royal blood lines living as common dirt farmers in the ever expanding west, enduring the hardships and dangers of this new land right along with the displaced Irish potato farmers who left the Emerald Isle because of the devastation of crop failure and famine.

Regardless of what a person considers to be the American Dream, it is almost always associated with life opportunities that are virtually impossible in any other time or place. The Horatio Alger story of rising from rags to riches was popularly referred to by those living in the latter half of the 19th Century and early 20th Century. The companion phrase, “Only in America,” carries with it the sense of achievement through opportunity and hard work. And, of course, the symbol of the American Dream, for immigrants as well as natural born Americans, is the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

One of the beauties of America is the practiced principle that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

So, let me ask you – What are you doing with your life? Are you taking advantage of the opportunities available to you by living in America? Life’s uncertainties along with unforeseen circumstances may hinder you from reaching for that next rung on the ladder, but you are free to pick yourself up and try again, to persevere even when the odds are against you, with your efforts seemingly fruitless, futile and wasted.

Remember: You are an American! You do not need the government to rescue you from the ravages of life. “In God we trust” is more than a clever slogan. It is a way of life. My American Dream is realized in the freedom to worship God every day without fear of personal attack or reprisal.

Thank God for our freedoms!

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