The American Dream… is there light at the end of recession’s tunnel?

19 Jun

James Truslow Adams once defined the American Dream as “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. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is 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” (The Epic of America, 1931).  While we often reference this terminology, we usually attach it to luxurious material possessions (bigger is better), professional success and monetary rewards of the highest… in other words, those things that say ‘look at me’ or ‘look at what I can do’.  Is this really what James meant?

At a time when many families are forced to leave their homes, sometimes living in tent cities with little more than the clothes on their backs, please understand that I am not making light of an incredibly difficult and painful situation.  However, I am merely posing an alternate point of view; a forced re-evaluation of the choices we make each and every day to guide our own lives and that of our families.  I felt compelled to write about this subject matter because, in some way, I believe there is a beautiful and wonderful light at the end of recession’s tunnel.

I recently shared an amazing conversation with a dear friend.  He, as with many men in my generation, felt the pressure as a child to define his adult professional career within the confines of four walls, a xerox machine and noisy telephones.  One wasn’t successful unless he found himself in a clean-cut suit and striped tie, potentially pleading for his client’s freedom or designing the next high rise condominium.  What happened to the trades that America was founded on?  When did it become a lower class lifestyle to be creative, to find liberation in working with the hands and the mind?  My friend’s escape from his daily grind, when it becomes almost unbearable, is to tinker with his favorite hot rod.  Most of you would refer to this as a hobby, but I think you can see where this story is leading!  Sometimes our hobbies are an extension of our need to revolt against society, to escape and find that place where we can just be.  Simply be.  

So, what does this have to do with the recession?  Well, many of us are finding ourselves unemployed and unable to afford a higher education to jump start a new career path.  In order to provide the essentials for living, some Americans are forced to tap into their creative sides… those trades for which many of us are extremely talented but feel forced to define as a hobby and never a real dream.  Is this such a bad thing?  Doesn’t this notion more closely parallel the American Dream of the 30’s?

Recently I have been thinking of those families, with two professional parents, trying desperately to juggle their own identities and the responsibilities of parenting.  A child’s routine, up until last year, involved dance classes, baseball practice, dinner on the run and possibly 15 minutes of quality time just before the fluffy down comforter reaches their chin and the warmth of mommy’s lips leave the last mark of the day on their soft cheeks.  However, with the economic downslide, many of those professional parents and children have been forced to sacrifice these ‘pleasures’ for a more simplistic lifestyle.  Notice I have pleasures in parentheses, mainly because I think the forced lifestyle may be the real pleasure or, as I would like to call it, treasure in life.  Dining out is replaced with teaching your children how to grow their own foods, possibly organically, and cook meals together as a family.  HBO cable TV is replaced with a much needed evening of family communication; mom, dad and the kids are finally seated around the dining room table, enjoying a meal and learning more about each other.  Baseball practice is replaced by an opportunity for dad to instill that same passion, that same respect for a shiny, candy apple red 1969 Chevelle SS as it hums in the back garage…

I can’t possibly say that I understand these ideals firsthand.  I am lucky to still have a job and at this time I have no children to support.  However, I can appreciate the trades of my father, and my grandfather, and my great grandfather.  They were no less than the executives of today; in many ways they were greater men.  If the recession today forces some of us to redefine ourselves and the American Dream, is that such a horrible thing?  And for us women, is it such a horrible thing to find that balance between our professional careers and family?  To realize that we can be nesters and career women?  If we are forced to occasionally remove the linen skirt and silk blouse, trading it in for an apron, potting soil and tomato seeds, is that such a bad thing?

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