Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Some Thoughts on the American Dream

First of all, my apologies for not updating in forever. We were away for a couple of days, but in general I've been in a little hibernation state. Annoyed with people and the world. Fun stuff like that.

This year's election has really gotten me thinking about a lot of things. I think that this might be the first Presidential election where I've been aware enough of my situation in life to have more of an active interest in the issues and the outcome, which could explain my heightened level of interest. At any rate, the one topic or theme that keeps coming back to me is the proverbial "American Dream" - what exactly does it mean? how does one achieve that dream? is it even a reachable goal?

The traditional American Dream has its roots in a time before any of us were even born. When the first individuals came to this country hundreds of years ago, they did so in order to find religious freedom. They made the decision to come to this country knowing that they would have to work very hard and make many sacrifices in order to have the freedom they so strongly desired. As more and more people emigrated to the United States, they did so in order to provide a better life for their families. Again, they knew that this would require work and sacrifice, and they were willing to make that effort.

During the years of the Great Depression, and as a whole during the first half of the 1900s, this idea of working hard and making sacrifices was still a very strongly held belief in America. My own grandparents were shuffled amongst different family members to be cared for as children because there were too many mouths to feed at home. As young adults, my father's parents had multiple jobs or sources of income, and it took some time (meaning, hard work and sacrifice - are you seeing a theme here?) before they were able to purchase their own farm property. My father grew up on that farm, and, as a child during the 1940s and 50s, was up before dawn each morning to help milk the cows. He had put in several hours worth of work before ever showing up for school each morning, and yet he did go to school and graduate with his high school diploma. My mother grew up in a house where her mother made most of the family's clothing. Every scrap of fabric that might be good for something was saved, including the feed sacks in which flour and other goods were stored.

My parents never had it easy as adults either. My father always worked hard physical-labor types of jobs, and when he wasn't working for a paycheck, he was doing other types of work to provide for our family. There were many things I did without as a child because of the sacrifices my parents made, but I didn't miss them. In fact, now I'm glad to say that I didn't have a video game system as a child, and I did just fine with not having a computer until high school and no internet access until college.

"Where am I going with this?" you ask. Well, did you see the common thread through all of that? Hard work and sacrifice.

WORK.

SACRIFICE.

Not entitlements. Not hand outs. Not lovey-dovey, touchy-feely, namby-pamby crap.

Work. Sacrifice.

What infuriates me about my peers (the tail end of Generation X and the start of the next generation, so those born between 1975 and 1990) is this overwhelming sense of entitlement. That just because an individual has reached the age of adulthood means that they are somehow entitled to certain things. New cars. New houses. Every whiz-bang gadget that comes along - iPhones, iPods, etc. Whatever happened to buying a "beater car" until you can afford something better? Whatever happened to apartment living, or buying a starter-home? Why the need to jump right into something brand-spankin' new? Somehow, the American Dream of working hard to achieve your dreams and goals became corrupted into the American Sham of instant gratification.

I feel that it's this sense of entitlement that has lead our country to the current economic disaster. Why work for something, when I can just have it? Why save money for something, when I can just charge it? Why live in an apartment, when I can buy a house?

Unfortunately, the government - BOTH SIDES OF THE AISLE - are feeding into this. The economic stimulus package from earlier this year. The bailout of the banks. Another economic stimulus package under consideration. These hand outs are providing an artificial sense of security to America. I'm sure that most of you are familiar with Darwin and his theory of "survival of the fittest". Apply that fundamental of biology to economics. To provide artificial financial support to banks, businesses and individuals leads to a state where society cannot sustain itself. Economics and business principles of the free market dictate that there be a natural ebb and flow. Businesses do badly and close. Businesses get bought and sold. This is as natural as a bear catching fish from a stream. But the programs being put into place in our government today lead to a situation where there are no consequences. No checks and balances. No natural ebb and flow. These programs and the overall sense of entitlement feed into this notion that no one is ever "wrong" or "bad" or a "failure". Americans are given second chance, after second chance, after second chance.

So what can be done about it?

First, it would be nice if we, the citizens of America, could admit to playing a hand in this. If we could stop passing the blame and accept some personal responsibility. No one held a gun to your head and made you sign that bad mortgage. No one spent your money for you - it was your hand that put the junk in your shopping cart.

Secondly, let us all remember the sacrifices that have been made for our freedom. We, as a country, need to stop being so cocky and self-righteous. Thousands of individuals have fought in many wars in order to form this country and protect its ideals. They fought, and many made the ultimate sacrifice, in order to give us the freedoms we enjoy today. We need to remember that, and it would be nice to see that heritage be shown more respect. Our freedoms, our rights and our privileges were not handed to us on a silver platter, and there needs to be more of a sense of gratitude for them within this country. We need to be more humble.

Third, we need to get back to that American Dream of hard work and sacrifice. We need to return to the idea of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. We need to get rid of this idea permeating society that we are "entitled". There are very few people who are truly "entitled" to anything in this country. We need to get over ourselves and get back to our roots. I truly believe that is the only way we can save our country.

Yes, you can call me old fashioned. You can even call me a stick-in-the-mud. And yes, I know that I am not perfect in regards to the situation presented here. The car I drive was purchased new, and I quickly came to regret that decision. I have racked up a hefty balance on my credit cards more than once, but I working very diligently now to erase that debt. I have made mistakes, but I have learned from them and I will continue to learn from them. I am not asking for a handout. I am working as hard as I can to achieve the dreams and goals I have set for myself. I simply ask that all Americans do the same, because I have a real problem with my tax dollars going to someone who is waiting for that silver platter to come along.

5 comments:

Joy of Frugal Living said...

YES YES YES!! Excellent post. I'm in the same age group (29), and I totally agree.

I think all of this "help" just makes people weaker. There is talk of "help" with student loans coming in the near future. We've just finished paying ours off. Part of me feels annoyed about it because we may lose an opportunity there, but a MUCH bigger part feels sorry that others may have the satisfaction and good experience of paying back what they borrowed taken away from them. We are strong, smart people, and we can clean up our own messes. It weakens our country to keep coddling people.

Anyway, you definitely brightened my morning with that!

Jennifer

laurel said...

In response to your comment on my blog...it totally threw me when I saw I had a comment from "Laurel"! Very cool!
Thanks for visiting my blog...I am looking forward to reading yours!

Melb. said...

My family sounds much like your family with regard to working hard and not having alot. My Dad's parents came from Italy. They had lots of children and at one point my dad and a couple of his brothers were sent to foster homes because there were too many mouths to feed.

My dad was a stone mason-physical labor. Growing up we never had money for extras but we had what we needed. We never knew the difference anyway. But that's another thing, my dad was skilled and did beautiful stone work. He took pride in his work. You can't find anyone with a skill like that and the kind of pride my dad took in his work. (Believe me we tried to find someone.) I am very proud of my dad and the way my parents raised us: learning that we had to work for what we wanted. learning responsibility, and yeh...cleaning up our own messes.

And why DO we need all that "stuff"? I personally have been downsizing everything and have been trying to think before purchasing because I don't want any more debt.

Also, It's not just your age group that has that sense of entitlement. I know plenty of 18-21 yr olds who have the same attitude.

Aren't you just a lttle frightened at the fact that these are the people who will be running our country in years to come?

Marlene said...

EXCELLENT post!!!! You've absolutely 100% hit the nail on the head with respect to the "sense of entitlement" that permeates society today.

You know, it's not endemic to only the U.S. I've seen my share of "entitlement" in Canada, as well.

Thanks for giving me a good read this morning.

Jen said...

So how do I downsize a ROOM of craft supplies?

No, I completely agree. And for the record, most of my supplies were bought on sale with a 40% off coupon!

It's sad the economy is slipping and there is a gov't band-aid for big business. However, I do my job, work hard and still come out short here & there. It's not a pretty picture we;ve painted in the USA!