Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rethinking the “American Dream”?


The economic malaise that has plagued this country the past couple of years has spurred much discussion in various media outlets about the need to re-examine the current state of what is considered the “national ethos” of this land: the “American Dream”. Some folks have simply lost faith in this quintessentially American concept, while others feel it needs to be re-examined, and subsequently redefined. Having migrated to the United States a little over a decade ago from Eastern-Europe, I wanted to offer my thoughts on this over-used phrase that inspired me to take the figurative leap over the pond in the first place.

The famous phrase, sloganeered by historian and writer James Adams, first appeared in his book entitled “Epic of America” nearly eight decades ago:

“The American Dream, that has lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores in the past century has not been a dream of material plenty, though that has doubtlessly counted heavily. It has been a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as a man and woman, unhampered by the barriers which had slowly been erected in the older civilizations, unrepressed by social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being of any and every class.”1

For me, the above quote is unmatched in capturing what the essence of the “American Dream” should be. Alas, I believe that since the coining of the “American Dream”, generations of natural born or would-be naturalized citizens have taken the liberty to create various derivations of the intended meaning of this powerful slogan. Over time, for not an insignificant chunk of society, the “American Dream” morphed into an ignoble ideal that centered around material wealth at the peril of completely ignoring the other critical values inherent within the phrase, while dismissing essential moral and ethical frontiers. Of course, embedded in all the above is the unmanageable amount of leverage that consumers and businesses have built up over time.

It is partly due to these oftentimes rogue and exponentially inflated expectations that our economy has sunk to historic lows. Ironically, many members of the ‘baby boomer’ generation, who experienced tremendous wealth creation and associated quality-of-life improvements, particularly in the 1990s, have since 2007 seen their life savings take an irreparable hit. Understandably, this has forced many, who otherwise would have opted for retirement, to lengthen their stay in the American workforce for a few more years. It has also forced the older generation (them) and the younger generation (us) to collectively re-examine the current state of the “American Dream”, what it should mean in today’s environment, and how we can come up with a collaborative approach to ensure future generations will not abuse this wonderful ideal that should otherwise serve as a core strategy for advancing the proper welfare of this country.

Next week, I will continue with my thoughts on this topic, offer my examination on how the “American Dream” should be redefined (or the true intended meaning re-emphasized), and what the implication of all this will be for our career strategies. Stay tuned….

1 Library of Congress. American Memory. "What is the American Dream?". Accessed August 21, 2008.

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