Interest in the American Dream heightened recently because the mid-term election was an opportunity for the American people to express their frustrations about this difficult economy. And express they did. But what did this election really say about the American Dream? As it turns out, not much.
It is important to make the distinction between THE American Dream and individuals' American Dreams. While it is painfully true that many individual American Dreams are currently struggling because of the economy, THE American Dream itself is not in trouble.
When we recently surveyed Americans' definitions of the American Dream, it was primarily not about homeownership, or wealth accumulation or a good job. It was overwhelmingly and unmistakably about two things: freedom and opportunity. So while it is important to understand that some individual dreams are in trouble, it is also important to remember that the freedom and opportunity to pursue them are not.
Our survey revealed that Americans have not lost faith in the American Dream BUT they have lost faith in nearly all of the very institutions traditionally seen as the guardians of the Dream...all of them...be they in politics, government, business, religion, sports, and especially the mainstream media reporting all the bad news.
But, despite everything, we still believe in ourselves. In fact, 67% of us are still confident that we can reach the Dream in our lifetime. This is essential to the American Dream for the very reason that it does not depend upon or wait for circumstances to change or someone else to create the future.
Inextricably linked to the ideas of freedom and opportunity is something else --- unspoken. Perhaps we take it for granted in our political, intellectual and capitalist marketplace today. Perhaps we forgot.
Freedom and opportunity require having no fear.
The American Dream is fearless -- unafraid of failure or suppression or doubt or criticism or ridicule or of claims of impossibility.
Our institutions need to be committed to upholding this fearlessness. This is where our public doubt lives... and it should, especially in today's politically partisan, fear-mongering world.
The American Dream relies on confident new investment-- not nostalgia, uncertainty, fear, and cutbacks at the time we need investment the most.
George Bernard Shaw, who, as it turns out had little affection for the US, unintentionally gave a special meaning to the American Dream.
He said that "the reasonable man sees the world as it is and adapts himself to it. The unreasonable man sees the world and expects it to adapt to him. Thus, all progress depends upon the unreasonable man."
The American Dream is defiantly the "unreasonable man."