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I read Kay Hymowitz’ column while I drank my morning coffee and ignored my e-mail. The article, titled “Marriage and Caste”, argued for the need for a woman to have a marriage, but also touched on the concern about “whether the American Dream is within the reach of all.” That struck a chord, in no small part because Ms. Hymowitz never defined the Dream for her audience, and that seems to me a significant point of contention.
Everyone dreams about something, but even for a particular individual, those dreams may change over time. For instance, I have at various times dreamed of wealth, fame, romance, or simply to avoid disaster at work, with the law, or with my family. So to mention “the” dream, is to imply that there is one ubiquitous desire for everyone, and to dub it the “American Dream” is to suggest a unique quality to the dream apart from the human condition. So that is my starting point, to re-examine the nature and elements of the American Dream.
In the Declaration of Independence, the Congress concurred that Man holds rights to Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. While various legislatures and demagogues have wrought havoc on those basic presumptions over the years, the basic rights are still pretty simple, especially the fact that we enjoy the right to chase Happiness; there is no guarantee we shall have it.
And yet there is a kind of joy to such a pursuit. Anyone who has played sports knows the thrill of contest, and anyone who has completed a difficult project knows the satisfaction of accomplishment. And it is critical to understand that the dream can be the same, even when it is different for each person.
In my life I have met an Indian woman who whose dream was to choose her husband. I met a Muslim whose personal proof of the mercy of God was having his wife and daughter in his life. I met a Baptist who wanted to run in the Olympics. I know a Sikh who wants to get his novel published. I am friends with a guy who wants his son to play for the Astros. And I know a guy running for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Some of these people have already fulfilled their dream, others are working on it. Some will never succeed at their dream, but the point is they are able to try. As for myself, I am looking for a publisher for two novels, as well as going after my MBA. Maybe it will happen, maybe not, but the truth about the American Dream, is that I can try. Shoot, I have already become internationally known as a blogger, mistaken for an authority on a couple subjects, and I have as fine a wife and family as I could ever have asked God to grant me.
OK, so some of the more cynical will stop and say, 'yeah, duck the issue DJ. The fact is, some people got money and always will, others never will.' To them I ask, is money all you know? Because money will not make a happy marriage, give you purpose, or help you sleep at night, knowing you made a difference in someone’s life.
But even if money is the all-important thing to you, nowhere is the field more level, the roster more open to everyone than in America. You can open a business of virtually any kind, virtually anywhere, and we actually have a decent set of laws which work well to a surprising degree, to protect intellectual rights, property, consumers and workers. Yes, there will always be some who are richer than their efforts deserved, but in America more people make their fortune than anywhere else. Yes, it means accepting risks and an inconstant climate, but no one said you get to coast to success. It’s the American Dream, not the Yankee Comfy Nap.
Pick a dream. Chase it. See what happens.