What is the American Dream?

The day has finally come to take a stab at this question. I was asked by a scholarship committee to articulate the meaning of the phrase “The American Dream.” Well…

The meaning of the phrase “The American Dream” has occupied an ambiguous space in my mind for most of my young-adult life. As the concept was introduced to me during my youth it became associated with the traditional American ethos in which the constitutional rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness provides the freedom for any citizen, regardless of social class or circumstances of birth, to achieve a happy and fulfilling life; this was associated with the idea that any child, simply by their American citizenship, had a fair opportunity to grow up and receive a good education and career without artificial barriers. However, as I grew older the meaning of “The American Dream” became convoluted by the corrupting power of corporate interests, deep seeded racism, and prejudice against women; It became clear that the American social system has not necessarily supported intergenerational social mobility, and many American families are perpetually “stuck” in ghettos with debt and low-income job cycles. Further, as I became aware of the 4 dreams of consumerism I was shocked to discover how our ideals of material wealth were based on an industrial system that is degrading the environment and exploiting indigenous populations in the “third-world.”     

Needless to say, I’ve questioned the meaning and relative value of the “American Dream” with varying degrees of clarity and conviction. When confronted with the question today, I feel much more balanced in my conception of its meaning and importance to my life. With respect to the complex economic, cultural and social dynamics that are involved in “The American Dream,” it is ultimately a spiritual value that is most significant in constructing the meaning of the “Dream” for me.

My “American Dream” is grounded in the principle, “harmony exists in diversity.” As my worldview has matured from egocentric to ethnocentric to world-centric I have come to regard the world as my family; this includes not just humans but also the soil, plants, animals, sun, water, and air. My “American Dream” is deeply connected to my story of the human family, in which the national boundaries that separate us are imaginary and our equality is based on one thing: being human. Our humanity is natural, and is intimately connected to the natural ecosystems and elements that we rely upon for material and energetic support.

My story of humanity is holistic and indigenous to the same source of life as the sun and oceans. Thus, the diversity of humanity extends beyond our species and includes everything else that lives and supports life. This inclusive identification with the diversity of life shapes my story of humanity and the meaning of “The American Dream.” In my story, humanity is naturally prosperous; when we are harmonious, we are prosperous. In this way, harmony and prosperity are naturally linked. Through diversity, life supports itself and sets the conditions for growth to ever-higher levels of organization and intelligence. We can observe any natural ecosystem to see that it thrives in its diversity; material growth structures and supports the abundant cycling of energy for the system to balance and support itself. So prosperity is a signal of harmony in diversity; where this prosperity is not present in humanity it is a sign of disharmony and disintegration of diversity. When this happens we must be willing to collectively envision a story that embraces diversity and supports the growth of true prosperity.

As mentioned before, my “Dream” is grounded in this principle of diversity and draws meaning from the example that America provided in its earlier years. The promise of these years included the opportunity for citizens to make individual choices without the prior restrictions that limited people according to their class, caste, religion, race, or ethnicity. Thus, in its growth through the 19th and 20th centuries, America thrived through creativity, engineering, and industry, and material prosperity seemed to have no limit. However, the ideals of “The American Dream” were severely limited by the reality of racial oppression, indigenous holocaust, and inequality. This reality remains with us in the 21st century, and calls for humanity  (especially “Americans”) to refine “The American Dream” to recognize and acknowledge the holistic value of our diversity.

In 1931, James Truslow Adams wrote of “The American Dream”: “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.” I believe Mr. Adams saw the deep potential of “The American Dream,” in that the ability to grow to fullest development is truly a spiritual ability. The deeply spiritual value of my “Dream” is the fundamental meaning and source of my story of humanity. I embody the “Dream” by making the decision to be a dreamer –to participate in the awakening of humanity to realize greater levels of harmony in diversity and thus promote sustainable prosperity for all of humanity (people and planet). Practically, I have chosen to be in an environment that supports my ability to grow toward my fullest development as a man, and I have dedicated myself to the process of flowering inwardly –spiritually- which supports the dynamic activity that flows forth from that flowering. If Adams knew me, he would say that I embody “The American Dream.” I intend to contribute to the world in a way that promotes and exudes the fullness of my “American Dream.” And in my example I encourage others to dream with me and make the world a more prosperous, harmonious place for all.  


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