Killing Me

Around 1980, I discovered KCSC, the classical music station from Edmond, Oklahoma’s Central State University. Classical during the day, but after midnight, a show called The Insect Lounge played music that wasn’t seeing the light of day in Oklahoma—punk rock. And I’ve been punk ever since. By 1987, punk was a little more mainstream, and one of my favorite bands was formed, Green Day.

I’ve got tickets to see Green Day on their Saviors tour and I’m looking forward to hearing them perform “The American Dream Is Killing Me” live. When it was released, my friends immediately started texting me that it was my anthem. Maybe I have been a little too vocal about the unreality of the American dream.

The concept of America as a melting pot has always fascinated me. The foundation of our nation was immigration. America is the land of the rejects. Starting with those from Europe who were escaping religious persecution to those who left their homes because they were starving (some literally) for economic opportunity and freedom. To this day, people still want to come to America.

The Statue of Liberty has a poem cast into a bronze plaque. It is a sonnet by American poet Emma Lazarus. She wrote the poem in 1883 to raise money for the construction of the pedestal for the statue. It reads in part, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

What if our communities had this same “open door” policy? What if our organizations did too? What would it look like if we didn’t just tolerate people who were homeless and broken but rather welcomed them? I mean that literally, but I also mean it as an analogy. There are many ways that people lose a sense of belonging and many ways people become damaged. Everyone needs a second chance at some point.

Billie Joe sings, “Don’t want no huddled masses, TikTok and taxes, under the overpass, sleeping in broken glass. We are not home.” What happens to people when they feel they are not at home? I often say that I can’t change the world, but I should be changing someone’s world. What if each of us was a mini Statue of Liberty, offering to accept someone right where they are and help them get to a better place?

As leaders, we have the raw materials and resources to create opportunity for the “huddled masses.” Just like people fled the oppression and lack of opportunity in their homelands, people are still trying to find places to work where they are not harmed (mentally, emotionally, and physically) while trying to provide for their families and realize their dreams.

What if our organizations believed in the intrinsic and equal value of every person? Rather than shunning or distancing ourselves from people who are struggling, we could extend our hand and help them up. Rather than seeing a past mistake as a red flag, we could give others a chance like we have been given. Rather than maintain exclusivity, we could promulgate inclusion and community.

Most people are not experiencing the American dream, and it is killing them. We can change that by creating cultures in our organizations that value and respect people and give them a chance to walk through the “golden door” they are looking for. Maybe it’s time for us to take a stand against the way things are and make them better. Creating an American Dream that elevates everyone so they can breathe free is the The Bison Way.