The Truth Board

A Blog by the Editors of
The Truth About the Fact: An International Journal of Literary Nonfiction

My Photo
Location: Los Angeles, California, United States

The Truth About the Fact: A Journal of Literary Nonfiction is an international journal committed to the idea that excellence in the art of letters can play a vital role in transforming the planet we share.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Wiping Away the American Sleepy Sand

“Those who look outward dream. Those who look inward awaken.”
–Carl Jung

The American Dream is waking up. Or at the very least, it’s evolving. Or, maybe I’m just imagining this entire paradigm shift because I attend a Jesuit University. Regardless, from where I’m standing something seems to be changing. And I don’t think there could be anything better for the people of this nation.

The Dream itself is a curious creation. It is rooted in the pursuit of freedom, both freedom from (i.e. fear, hunger, persecution) and freedom to (i.e. worship, enterprise, pursue happiness). But freedom is a tricky thing. There’s a fine line between freedom and anarchy, between happiness and decadence. It’s also tricky because everyone wants to be freedom for different reasons, and sometimes those objectives conflict. I have ancestors who came on the Mayflower and they were looking for freedom to practice their religion. The other first founders of America, the colonists of Jamestown, were looking for the freedom to get rich on gold and lucrative plantations. And so the two biggest manifestations of the American dream were born almost simultaneously, religion and capitalism, and the two have had a sibling rivalry in our culture ever since.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of freedom is that it allows one to go off the beaten path and into uncharted territories. This is both the greatest benefit and the greatest danger of freedom. To choose to make your own path is the equivalent of setting off into the woods on your own. You could discover a hidden treasure, or you could become lost forever.

The American Dream definitely has changed over our country’s multiple centuries, though freedom has always been at its heart. Historians have called this phenomenon “the great American experiment,” usually in reference to our pioneering status as one of the first democratic nations since ancient Greece. By the 1950’s the American Dream had become a suburban dream, the nuclear family that owned a dog, a car, and a house with a white picket fence. It was thought that this dream would bring happiness. What it brought was overdue mortgages, stressed out husbands, amphetamine-popping house wives, drug addled kids, and an epidemic of divorces. By the 1980’s and 90’s it had become the corporate dream—that anyone could work their way up the corporate ladder and play the stock market to win big and get rich. By the 2000’s, we had Paris Hilton and the reality TV phenomenon, where everyone wants to be a celebrity with a messed up personal life displayed before the whole nation.

Americans have always wanted to use their freedoms to pursue happiness; the problem is, happiness is about as elusive as the famed El Dorado or the Fountain of Youth. We’re exactly like those early Conquistador explorers, expecting to simply wander until we stumble upon the ultimate fulfillment of all desires. But just like the tail-end of those Conquistador explorers, I think Americans are starting to wake up to the truth that this dream is just the product of a hyper-active imagination. The dream is just what it says it is—a dream. If we truly want happiness, we need to look for it in the American Reality. We don’t need a dream anymore, we need to wake up. And to me, it looks like that might be starting to happen.

I attended a program by Campus Ministry the other night in which Acting President David Burcham gave advice to seniors about living a post-graduate life. The first thing he said that stood out to me was that a goal without a plan is just a dream. Just a dream. The phrase is intriguing to me. It strikes my ears as a new social understanding. An understanding that dreams are fine for children, but to be an adult is to take action and have reality-oriented goals. Another of his parcels of wisdom is something that I’m starting to hear as a recommendation more and more often in recent years. He advised everyone to follow your passion, through the hard times as well as the good.

This, to me is the heart of the paradigm shift that I think we’re starting to see. A society where, instead of seeking actions that lead to hedonistic gratification, we are instead seeking courses of action which, by the very nature of the drives they ignite in us, lead to inner fulfillment, regardless of success or failure. Instead of an elusive El Dorado, we’re starting to seek our inner inspirations. Instead of dreaming about cold hard cash, Americans are instead awakening to the reality that happiness can be found in the simplicity of watching a warm sunset in the company of someone they care about. Perhaps the best part of this awakening is that it is free. And freedom is what the American Dream has always been about.

--Paul Beckwith


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home