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Defining the American Dream

Slogans abound when it comes to how most US citizens define "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." Of course, it is common knowledge that the original thought was the pursuit of "property". This was in direct opposition to the aristocracy and the inability to rise in monarchies where all land was held by a titled class. The founding fathers did not want the nation to be overly focused on material things, so "happiness" became the third point.

When I was a kid, "baseball, hotdogs, apple pie, and chevrolet" was the jingle in a popular ad that seemed to run in all of my favorite cartoons. America's sport, America's favorite foods, and her favorite car were supposed to evoke a shared feeling of what it is to rise as an US citizen. Individual achievement was valued and encouraged. The rich and powerful were admired and emulated.

Some have called home ownership the American dream. But, the man who actually coined the phrase, John Truslow Adams, had a more solid, noble grasp of the concept. He said:

His 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.... 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 position....quality and spiritual values...a genuine individual search and striving for the abiding values of life." (Wikipedia)

Of course, to embrace his vision is to dare to define the American values and individualism to which we should all aspire. That is not easy in the 21st century. Daring to be a champion of life these days is tantamount to asking a woman to be barefoot and pregnant. Nevermind that, as Mother Theresa said, “Abortion is profoundly anti-women. Three-quarters of its victims are women: Half the babies and all the mothers.” ( So, life, the first item on the founder's list is also the first on the list of believers. But, it would seem this American value is no longer valued by all Americans. This may mean the American dream is in danger--profound danger when there is no better place to live if you are a woman. Women can and do achieve anything they want here. Life is definitely first on the list of American values, we just need to do a better job of helping others see that.

Liberty is a tricky Amercian value, because so many free people insist they are oppressed and that white people are oppressors; oh, and Jewish people are white. Where is there a better opportunity for non-white people than the USA? If people of color feel as if they cannot achieve here, they are FREE to pursue their dreams anywhere else they like. No one is prevented from moving from state to state or even out of the country. Why must there be an enemy we judge by the color of his skin instead of the content of his character? Is Dr. King's American dream dead? I fear that we are being held captive by a false narrative that keeps so many from appreciating liberty. As a citizenry, we keep sacrificing freedom for perceived security. And Ben Franklin said if we do that, we will "deserve neither" and, might I add, sacrifice both? Individual privacy and liberty is in grave danger and we need to take it back.

Finally, there is the pursuit of happiness and/or property. Happiness is completely subjective. Property, on the other hand, brings to mind the aforementioned Chevrolet and home ownership. In and of themselves, pursuing things is greed. The opportunity to pursue things that we own and have dominion over is necessary and innate to the human condition since the Garden of Eden. Of course, this portends individualism, not the collective ideology that bombards us today. Any individual can decide for him or herself what will make them happy and fulfill their life. Therefore, I conclude, collectivism is the enemy of this pursuit and it is pervasive in our society today.

Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are the American dream when God, family, and country are our individual priorities. Accountability, responsibility, and hard work are necessary in order to understand these priorities. Victimhood, oppression mentality, and entitlement are the enemy of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The American dream is not dead, but it is on life support. Churches, families, and informed citizens must do better at communicating the need for individualism in communities who underperform. It is possible to rise in the United States. Choose life, choose to ignore the messages of oppression, and choose to pursue happiness one well informed decision at a time. Happiness is not a thing to be grasped, it is a state of being that must constantly be maintained and chosen. Self-actualization requires a good deal of hard work and commitment. Blaming some fictitious, or even real, oppressor cannot lead to happiness.

May God move in our lives to help us secure our individual liberty so that we may live happy and free. God bless!

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