If the so-called American Dream is a hyper-intentional motivation to give our children a greater financial future than we have now, at the expense of perpetuating the idea that higher net worth is necessary for higher self worth, I choose the American Awakening instead...
Amidst recent high school and college graduations, the observation of Fathers Day in America and the rising presence of political banter surrounding the US presidential election, I have seen and heard the phrase "American Dream" many times.
As parents and as stewards of the future of our country we have been fed the idea that our children must be better off than us; and the measuring stick for "better" is a financial one. Anything less is a failure! How can we live with ourselves if we leave our children with a country in worse economic condition than we found it? But who or whom is talking about the mental, spiritual and physical well-being of our children, our country and our world?
"Paradoxically, what keeps the so-called consumer society going is the fact that trying to find yourself through things doesn't work: The ego satisfaction is short-lived and so you keep looking for more, keep buying, keep consuming." ~ Eckhart Tolle
The paradox is that this kind of thinking created the economic problems that exist around the globe today:
- I don't have enough so I'll buy more.
- When my things break, I won't fix them--I'll just throw them away and replace them with new ones.
- I don't have any more money so I'll borrow more money to satisfy my wants.
- I'll never lose my job so I'll borrow as much as the bank will allow.
- The bank executive thinks his or her institution will never run out of financial resources because home values will never fall and so they must take greater risk to lend more money to all the consumers hungry for it.
I'm not saying we shouldn't teach our children the value of money and how to provide for themselves financially, but I am saying that we fail our children and our future when we implicitly teach them that more is better and that one's identity is found in things--the clothes, the cars, the houses, and the lifestyle--that never seem to be "good enough."
"Stuff your eyes with wonder, live as if you'd drop dead in ten seconds. See the world. It's more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories." ~ Ray Bradbury
The metaphor of "the dream" is useful for my point. If this dream is the desired and preferred state, the only way to remain in it is to continue feeding it with more and better things. How can I be happy with these old clothes? What will people think if they see me in this junky car? I'm not satisfied with who I am or where I am now. Therefore I must be somebody or be somewhere else to be satisfied. I am not successful if I do not appear successful.
All are lies.
In addition to the things, the destinations--escapes from reality--are crucial to remain in the American Dream state. We live for the end of the work day, the weekend, the vacation and the retirement. When a new day or new week begins, or when we return from the vacation, we say, "Well I guess it's back to reality now." And so we must find another escape, another way to get back to the dream.
"Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle." ~ Steve Jobs, Stanford Commencement Speech, 2005
If the opposite of dreaming is awakening, we can all do ourselves, our friends, and our children a service by helping them awaken--to tell them and show them:
- Money is a powerful tool but not a destination;
- Things can be yours but you are not your things;
- Dwelling in the past or wishing for the future removes you from life; and
- Dreaming is healthy but dreams are not a place to stay.
There is nothing wrong with financial wealth but to make it one's highest goal (or to knowingly or unknowingly teach new generations to make it theirs) can actually make the American Dream more of a nightmare.
Most of the wealthiest people in the world have said that they acquired their wealth by acting authentically--they were led by the desire to be who they are, not by the desire to accumulate massive wealth. If the money followed their authentic behavior, so be it. If they had a "dream" it did not remain a dream--it was transposed into reality by their actions.
"One infinitesimal accomplishment in reality is worth a mountain of dreams." ~ Dorothea Brande
In different words, the most successful people did not constantly seek temporary states; they discovered (and were led by) their own traits. They did not live to dream--they dreamed to live. They were never Becoming but were always Being.