Friday, November 26, 2010

The American Dream

The problem with the American Dream—the problem with all dreams really—is that you have to be asleep to maintain it. In the case of the American Dream—the notion that our kids will live richer and more productive lives than their parents—this means being asleep to the fact that real wages have been falling for decades, that corporations are making more money now with millions of Americans out of work then they were when they employed those Americans, and the realization that the lie of the American Dream is the same as that found on the sign heading into the Auschwitz death camp: Arbeit macht frei/Work sets you free.

It doesn’t. Work, especially working at something you hate to maintain a life style you can’t afford and never have time to enjoy anyway, is slavery. When work is fun, it is no longer work. That is why so many employers try to make work fun; they no it isn’t.

I gave up the American Dream the day I decided not to enter my family’s business, and to pursue instead a life as a rabbi, educator, and writer. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to have a summer home up north, a winter home down south, and buy a new car every two or three years. My hope now is to inherit one of those homes, sell it, and use the money to buy a more recent used car than the 2005 Mazda Protégé I currently drive. But am I bitter? No.

My dad loved what he did, and I am proud of the business he and my uncle built, and happy for my cousins who are making it even greater and more financially rewarding. And I am delighted with the life choices I made, and recommend them to my own son who is just beginning his career as an educator and writer. What about rabbi? He teaches Jewish American literature at the university—close enough.

So as Black Friday comes to a close and we begin to prep for Shabbos, let me suggest five ideas to share with your kids about the American Dream:

1. Wake up and stop dreaming it. Find what you love and do it. And if you have to do stuff you don’t love to supplement yourself, do that too. Just don’t abandon what you love.

2. Move somewhere cheap and live even cheaper. The less you have the less you have to earn and the more time you have to play. Get a good financial planner to help you manage the surplus.

3. Don’t go into debt. Only exception is when buying a house, and even then buy small and think twice and then twice more.

4. Don’t count on anyone to take care of you: not parents, employers or the government; yet don’t imagine you can take care of yourself. Build a network of friends who pledge to help one another in times of crises. Even then be prepared to be disappointed. Learn to live with anxiety, ambiguity, and doubt. It called adulthood.

5. Measure the quality of your life by how often you are happy and of service to others. The only advantage to being rich and miserable is that the rich can afford legal drugs to mask their misery while the poor have to risk jail time for their’s. Forget about being rich or poor; seek only to avoid being miserable.

4 comments:

Mary Bea Sullivan said...

Thank you Rami! I am sending this one to Brendan and Kiki. Blessings on you!

Gaspar said...

How about:
6. Try living according to Siddhatta Gotama's teaching on the Four Noble Truths: 1) All life is suffering; 2) The cause of suffering is desire; 3) Suffering can be ended; 4) The way to end suffering is the Noble Eightfold Path: right understanding, right thought, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right meditation.


Ourself is not owed or due anything, nothing in life is to be expected. To live with the understanding of life in the terms of the "American dream" is to live with the understanding that happiness comes when our desires are satisfied, and only to find the emptiness that awaits us at the end to our pursuit of the material. It is with a life of service to others we find the joy of living.

marcello09 said...

I've never heard "The American Dream" defined in such narrowly materialistic terms. That's certainly not what it means to me. But I guess it probably means different things to different people. That's probably why it's still alive!

Gaspar said...

marcello09, I feel the need to respond to your statement, though odds are you will not read this and by the off chance you do, not get what I am saying. Your statement reeks of a few ideals that are made popular by the "american dream". Let's first look at materialism; it is a physical dependance on anything that is outside our natural existance, so yes to a certain degree we are all materialistic and the dream being largely so. I suspect you do not see this because your raising within the frame of the dream allows you a comfortable blind ignorance, which is the main defense of those who can't admit to themselves the possible error of their ways. The dream also reeks of the ideal which John Locke warns of: false knowledge, meaing if I think it is true it is such simply because I have thought it as true, with no other means to support my belief other than what I have thought. This belief makes it difficult to open our minds to a possiblity that we are of the belief that is in the wrong. We have forgotten the notion that a correct belief can be seen as so based on it's effect on the surrounding evironments and have replaced this with the notice that "if I have been raised this way then it is the only possible way to be raised as", which affords us the luxury of always being right and never having to look within and without for a possible better way. Yes, the dream is alive and also are is products of world domination, over population, dwindling natural resources, extinct animal species, unnatural global warming, blind ingornance, etc. By blind ingnorance I mean it is all too common that people will say, do or think on things of which they have no understanding or knowledge of why, what or how; your statement being a wonderful example of this. Do not mistake this for an entire attack on the american way of life, because as many other societies of contribution to life not all is bad. It is the point of view on has towards what is right or wrong, but in the end their is neither right or wrong just the fruits of your labor. If one contributes more to the problem than to the solution, than they are the problem.