Recently, CNN's Jack Cafferty wrote an article about the death (and dying) of the American Dream. I found myself surprised at the shock and insult that I felt when I read it. First, lets be clear, I am a Canadian-born US resident, a spiritual author/teacher and a pretty forgiving guy - so why the strong reaction?? The entire article was about financial collapse and set back. Sighting statistics about home foreclosures, job loss and income drops, Cafferty pointed accurately to a difficult time in USA's history, and there was nothing "wrong" with what he stated, but there was something awful about what was implied in two deep and glaring errors of logic.
He confuses "quality of life" with "standard of living." While millions of people will have their standard of living threatened or impacted these days (my family included) the "quality" of our lives is not necessarily worse. I am certain that some of my lowest financial phases - cutting grass, hauling trash and painting people's homes - were some of the most joy filled and satisfying days of my life. I have also experienced economic security as a senior executive in a large healthcare firm and endured some of the greatest stress and imbalance I have yet experienced. I cannot speak for anyone but myself, but my quality of life is really not attached to how much I make or what I have. In fact, I see quality of life as primarily my own responsibility and largely within my own control. It is about what I do with what I have and how I treat others and myself; its not about my "stuff." Quality of life has everything to do with attitude, purpose, kindness, connection and making a difference. If you think its about money, you'll never have enough.
This leads to the second stabbing pain I felt reading the article. If I recall, part of what makes America so extraordinary is its very foundation, rooted in the embrace of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." That to me is the American dream: the courageous embrace of choice, freedom, equality, and a life of meaning. America was founded from a mission to create a place of justice for all. Since when was the American dream simplified to "get rich or die trying"? It was 50 cent the rapper who said that - not the American forefathers and mothers. The implication is that if people aren't making more money or able to acquire more things, the American Dream will die.
I grew up being cynical about the American Dream and as I have traveled around the world I have always noted the obvious innuendo so common in other countries was always that "Americans are a shallow society, consumed with the desire for wealth." I never wanted to believe that such a stereotype is true. I am proud to live in the USA, proud of my American wife and son -- who is part American -- and have fallen in love with the incredible creativity and passion that sustains this nation. USA is a nation of talent and innovation, and I think, from a spiritual perspective, that the ultimate human journey is to find our unique purpose and talent and share it with the world. This is the heart of what makes this country a special place in the world.
To me the American dream is not dead, its not dying, it is alive and well and exactly what will pull us out of this recession. The American Dream is the soul of this country and it's not about what we have, its about what we do with it. It's about the very ability to dream and aspire. Maybe more Americans need to aspire to a new kind of greatness - not of wealth - but of spirit. Then there will be no doubt in the world that the American Dream can change us all for the better...
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