American Dream or American Nightmare?

What is the “American Dream”? It is often stated as the belief that anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success in a society where upward mobility is possible for everyone.

That sounds great, and it might be true in a limited sense. However, there are some very important problems associated with this long-held belief—two sides of the same bad penny.

The first side is that at some point this got translated into “you can be anything you want to be” or “you can achieve anything in life if you want it, believe you can do it, and work hard enough.” This is simply and patently false. For reasons too numerous to mention, untold numbers of people are unable to accomplish their dreams and aspirations in spite of years of hard work and tons of belief. The tragic side effect of this philosophy occurs when people who do not achieve their hard-fought and long-believed goals must reconcile how they failed. Internally, they often believe they somehow didn’t try hard enough or believe enough, while externally they are tempted to blame other people for their troubles. We see this in the current political scene, where one group blames another group for their dissatisfaction and/or circumstances.

The flip side is that if the American playing field is level and one’s effort and belief translate into success, then people who are not successful have only themselves to blame. This is a common theme in human interactions. We tend to look for reasons to not help or participate. I don’t stop to help someone on the side of the road because “everyone has a cell phone these days” and they probably already called someone. I don’t volunteer at my megachurch because “with this many people going to church, surely they have enough volunteers.” And I don’t see it as my problem that people are poor, undereducated, or hungry because “everyone in America can be successful if they just try hard enough.”

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not opposed to the constitutional form of government we have in the United States. I think America’s free-enterprise system makes possible the circumstances that allow individuals to go beyond meeting their basic needs and to achieve higher aspirations.

What I don’t believe is that the playing field is level or that people are capable of controlling all the circumstances that impact their lives. That is what community is for. We shouldn’t use the American Dream as an excuse for not getting involved or to blame others for someone’s condition. We should use our freedom and—for those blessed to have it—our prosperity to lift those who cannot lift themselves.

If we respect and value one another, a natural outcome should be that we “fill in” the gaps in each other’s lives. When the American Dream becomes an isolated and individual pursuit, it is unattainable for most and hollow for those who do acquire their goals. In community, we can lift everyone higher and find real purpose in what we do. I see this every day at Kimray, and that makes me very proud of you. Let’s continue to do life together, and let’s use Kimray’s prosperity and influence to help others do the same.

That’s The Kimray Way.