Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The 'American Dream' - by Lauren Campbell

NPR recently did a special titled “American Dreams.” It’s a series based on the social, cultural, and economic ideals of the “American Dream.” I caught a brief portion of it and got to thinking about our societal obsession with the concept.

The American Dream, as it was coined, is the idea that we all have a fair chance to succeed in this country. There is nothing holding a person back from fulfilling their desires to become rich, famous, successful, or all three combined. However, those who are rich, powerful, and ‘successful’ have the American Dream stamped all over them, yet they fail to travel to some of the poorest neighborhoods in our country to help others fulfill their dreams. This lends itself to the lack of understanding surrounding power and privilege in our country and community - a lack of understanding of the American Dream.
Last summer I worked at a campaign office raising money for a children’s organization. The organization fights disease and educates children and women all around the world, a effort worth standing up for.

All Summer, I stood outside (sometimes in the 90 degree weather) stopping people on the street and asking for donations. It was a very humbling job and a wonderful learning experience (granted, at the beginning, I felt very uncomfortable asking others for money).

It amazes me that in the business district in our state’s capital, the least amount of money was raised. I would stop men in their 3 piece suits and give my spiel, ask for money, answer their questions, and sweat. When I was done with my 90 second real life infomercial, some would say “why don’t those children just go and get jobs…deliver news papers, start a lemonade stand, or farm labor, that’s what I did and look where I am today.”

These privileged American dreamers don't understand that the children of Somalia and of the Sudan do not have the option to deliver newspapers; their options are limited to picking up loaded weapons and defending their family or joining the local militia.

I think that the most hurtful thing I heard was a gentleman who, when asked if he would like to fight child poverty, replied, “I charge 500.00 dollars an hour for my services, if you have 90 seconds worth of pay, I will stop and listen to what you have to say.”

How does one react to that?

How easy would it have been for that gentleman to just stand and listen? What if he would  have said yes to my request and in the process help change a child's life?

I had a professor once who preached “Just say yes to the request and see what happiness you gain or what lesson you learn; don’t dwell on how difficult the task or how time consuming, just do it.”

When I take this advice and apply it to my own life, I realize that the best way to grow as an individual is to be pulled out of your comfort zone and in the process help others. This also means that the more uncomfortable the situations, the less situations are available for you to feel uncomfortable. I think that for us, as humans, we need to focus less on our “American Dream” and more on the dreams of others, in America and abroad; we need to focus more on the human condition globally and less on retirement plans and the deficit locally. 

NPR's story is covering the economics of the "American Dream." We have seen the Occupy movement claim that the "American Dream" is no longer an option.

To me, the American dream has changed over time.

We still consciously recognize that the dream is shrouded in the land of opportunity; however, we have changed what measures that dream. Opportunity, servitude, volunteering, and helping make a difference in our own and other's lives has been replaced unconsciously with expensive cars, clothes, and gadgets. We now longer pride ourselves in donating time to help at the soup kitchen, we now pride ourselves in what type of car we drive to the soup kitchen, if we even go.

This is a dream crumbling. The future of this American dream is crumbling; not from a lack of jobs, money, or 401Ks, but by the lack of time, compassion, and understanding we give (or don't give) one another and our future generations. 

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