The things that will destroy America are prosperity-at-any-price, peace-at-any-price, safety-first, instead of duty-first, the love of soft living, and the get-rich-quick theory of life.
- Theodore Roosevelt, 1917
If you do very well in school, work hard in your career, spend carefully, obey the law, and live your faith, youll be financially successful. Baloney.
You may get a satisfactory education, a tolerable job, a small savings account, a clear criminal record and life everlasting, but you wont necessarily get rich.
Its time to wake up from the prevailing American Dream, and quit this constant associating of the good life with dollar signs. All the evidence seems to support the theory that most folks fantasies are firmly rooted in the monetary realm. Why else would we have such a booming lottery? Why the countless infomercials guaranteeing untold wealth, for just three easy payments of $59.95, or those popular testaments to greed such as Survivor or Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? Why are even third-graders sickeningly aware of pricey namebrands?
After many years of roaming this earth, well, Martinez, anyway, Ive also finally come to the earth-shattering conclusion that there is practically no connection between being a smart, industrious, or decent person and having great wealth. Although good people may have money, so do bad ones, and there are many more truly nice individuals striving to make ends meet than those with no financial woes.
We may need to blame Columbus, or John Smith, or Fernando Lamas, one of those early guys, for part of the problem. They first stirred up this burning desire for a new world, and the chance to own several McDonalds franchises. I mean, sure, our forefathers and fivemothers may have originally left Europe to escape religious and political persecution, but it probably was the thought of vast, unclaimed parcels of land, and all its accompanying wealth, that really floated their boat.
Given all this, so what? Are working people, the dwindling middle class, the souls who actually built this nation and keep it running, doomed to a life of drudgery, want and sacrifice?
The answer is yes - and no. Sorry.
We might as well face it. Hard labor, disappointment, sorrow, illness and pain are all part of life. We struggle, scratch and strain just to make it from one day to the next. We turn over an inordinate amount of what we earn to a bunch of bureaucratic fools, who dont have any trouble whatsoever disposing of other peoples money. And then we take what little we have left and try to maintain our lives. Raises dont even keep up with the cost of living. Getting ahead seems almost impossible when every day its a broken stove, a broken tooth, or a broken promise.
We try to be cheerful and hopeful, but we ordinary people panic when the car starts acting up, the kids bring home more fundraiser materials, or the credit cards approach their limits. We take our medicine every other day to make it stretch. We pay our bills, and then use whats left for food, which, suffice it to say, usually isnt lobster or filet mignon. We seldom take our families out to eat, since even the most mediocre restaurants can devour $50 in no time.
Sometimes it feels as if were too far out in the ocean, waves continuously crashing over our heads. We cant get our footing - were in too deep. And we cant swim for shore; its too far away. All we can do is tread water and pray.
I even think the furor over our countys rain tax is fueled in part by this same fear and upset. Its not that the average fee is huge and insurmountable - it isnt. Its because were tired of being nickeled and dimed to death.
We want our dream back, or at least the possibility of it. We want to be left alone to live our lives free of neverending outside intervention or demands. Weve either had to fend off, or reluctantly accept, so many oppressive tactics from the government, big business, or the insurance industry, were running scared now, suspicious of everybody, like the misanthropic spinster whos been jilted once too often.
So, what can we do?
I see two main roads of defense, which we might spiritually travel, simultaneously. First of all, we must never give up, not our will to go on, nor our right to be heard. And secondly, we must re-examine our values, and decide if much of what we thought we really wanted, perhaps even needed, isnt worth the price.
Living the American Dream doesnt have to be a nightmare.
(Mindy Jeffers is a local free-lance writer. E-mail comments to email@example.com.)
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