The future of the American Dream

Bonnie Willis's picture

One of the things my husband loves to do with our family is take road trips. Ever since our kids were in diapers we would strap them in the car seats at least twice a year and take road trips along the East Coast.

During these excursions we would always point out the beauty and variety we saw as we drove from city to city, and state to state. We marvel at God’s creation and the vast and varied landscapes and natural resources we have in America.

Inevitably, my husband would say, “Wow, what a country”! He says this in part out of sheer inspiration and in part because he wants to instill in our children an appreciation for the tremendous blessing we have to live here.

The sight of such wonders usually inspired our kids to imagine what their futures might be like. So they begin sharing grand visions and awesome dreams with limitless possibilities. As the kids take turns vocalizing their aspirations, my husband and I usually listen with an encouraging presence, always amazed at how they view the world. For rather than feeling overwhelmed, or anxious about their future, they are rightfully inspired by our country.

These days, however, as more and more families — including ours — are grappling with the current economy, I imagine that dreaming of an optimistic future is increasingly difficult. For my family, for example, there seems to be a constant concern about getting our next contract, how to best market our small business, or how to budget for the next quarter.

Although we try to shield the kids from the harsh economic realities, unfortunately, we still get the sense that they are aware that there are serious concerns in our country.

However, the thing that frightens me more than the uncertainty of the economy is the sense that there is diminishing faith in the American Dream, the belief that with perseverance and hard work one can become successful in this country.

Just consider the fact that there are millions of experienced professionals, educated young people, and terminated blue-collar workers, who, despite their sincere efforts, are unable to find work. Is it any surprise that their faith in the American Dream might falter?

The longer they are out of work, the more their personal experiences tell them that the American Dream is not true. Although they see successful people on television, perhaps they are beginning to believe the pop cultural convention that it is only the “lucky” or the “well-connected” who actually achieve success in this country.

Consider further, what is happening to our nation when, increasingly, more people in our society are no longer believing that their persistent effort will lead to their success. What would motivate one to persevere in finding work and resist being dependent on taxpayers (via the government) or someone else to provide for their needs? What happens to our nation’s collective motivation, innovation, and our sheer desire to dream?

In a very real sense, this is the real danger we face — a dulling of our nation’s soul. Rather than pushing for increasingly greater segments of our society to become dependent on government programs and subsidies (individuals, companies, and industries alike), we need to persevere and seek self-reliance just as our grandparents and great-grandparents did.

So whether we are taking a road trip or sitting at the kitchen table, economic fears cannot blind us to the blessings we have in this country, and allowing my children to continue to dream of a brighter future is one of the best gifts I can give them.

[Bonnie B. Willis is co-founder of The Willis Group, LLC, a Learning, Development, and Life Coaching company here in Fayette County and lives in Fayetteville along with her husband and their five children.]