“The American Dream” is a nebulous term, hard to define. But what is hard to define, in this case, is easy to envision. Often when one hears “The American Dream” an image is called to his or her mind: one of a man, rough and thin, with nothing in his pockets but a penny and the ticket stub to a passage liner. This man works all his life laboring and saving to create a better future for his children. Or maybe the image is of a girl, born into the ghetto, who stays up most of the night studying so that she then might receive a full-ride to Harvard, to then become a lawyer, to then become a Supreme Court Justice.
These pictures may seem idealistic—the sort we think of when we are encouraged to simply “pull ourselves up by our bootstraps.” But these are true stories, the stories of our grandparents and great grandparents. It is stories like this that shape American values and dictate the American dream. How could such a rousing history be bad?
The history is not bad. The American Dream, even, is not bad, though so many current day Americans hold disdain for it. What is bad is the way in which the American dream has come to be abused, used as an excuse for laziness or entitlement mentalities. People abuse the American dream when they see a “T.V. set, a car, and a house” and assume they have a right to them, just because they call the United States their home. America does not promise health, wealth, or happiness. What America does promise, however, is a chance at those things. There is the promise that, in living here, you can in fact dream of a better future for your children—not because it is a guarantee, but because this is the land of opportunity. When that man rough and thin steps off of that passage liner, he is guaranteed that if he works hard enough he might be able to save enough money to send his kids to college... maybe. Or he might lose everything. And that’s the beauty of it—anything is possible.
People need to remember the American dream, not for what it has become, but for what it truly is: hope for a better future. There is no promise that the hard work will pay off, or that just by living here you are ensured healthcare and a roof over your head. That is just not the way life works. But just as the first colonists moved here to escape an overbearing government, in the hopes that they might make something new for themselves and their families, so can we. We can work hard and save and gamble and pray, all in the hope of something new and better. It isn’t a promise, but it is a dream.