19 October 2008

The American Dream

American DreamImage by FotoRita [Allstar maniac] via Flickr
I don't, as a general rule, like to get mired in American politics. But (bet you saw that coming!!), I couldn't help looking up this whole Joe the Plumber saga.

I'm sure there is more to it than this, but what really took my breath away was his comment:
"Its not for the Government to decide I earn a little too much and so I need to share it with other people. That's not the American dream"
Americans seem to have interpreted the American Dream as the individual pursuit of succcess, fame and wealth. And while this has led to Americans (in general) becoming wealthier and better educated than ever, it doesn't seem to have made them happy.

According to Dr. Steve McSwain, that is because the life they really want, the true American Dream, is not in getting, but in giving.

"The happiest and healthiest people are those who have
learned to be extravagantly generous. In an age of unprecedented wealth
and record charitable giving, McSwain makes a compelling argument that
your highest purpose in life is to give yourself away and generously
share your abundance with the world."

Historian and writer James Truslow Adams coined the phrase "American Dream" in his 1931 book Epic of America:

"The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be
better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each
according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the
European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us
ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of
motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which
each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature
of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for
what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or

While he doesn't specifically mention sharing and generosity, it seems to be implied. If life is going to be 'better and richer and fuller for everyone", then everyone needs to have fair access to resources - education, healthcare, housing. . . and for this to happen there needs to be a fair balance between the needs of the individual and the needs of the community.

For all Americans to achieve the American Dream, it seems obvious that there is a need for a fair system of wealth distribution. Not only in America, but globally, people need to be asking themselves how much is enough? We need to be considering the difference between personal financial security and hoarding wealth. And we need to think long an hard about the ethics of pursuing our own financial advancement at the expense of others.

Quite frankly Joe the Plumber, you do need to share with others. Given that people in your enviable position are obviously not doing this of their own accord, maybe it is time for the American Government to step in and force the issue.

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