I often hear and read that we all have access to the American dream.
It is also often uttered that we all have the same opportunities in life.
Technically, one could argue in support of the validity of that statement.
Yes, we can all stand at the starting line, but some of us run faster than others, and not necessarily because that individual worked harder, but possibly because of the natural gifts he or she was born with. No one should be punished or have their legs broken because they are faster, but that sort of blows out of the water the notion that the individual standing nearby will achieve the same dream by working as hard or even harder.
And what about those people with no legs or whose legs have been broken through circumstances out of their control?
Another glitch in the equal access to the American dream argument and the claim that hard work is rewarded is that achieving the “dream” and so-called rewards depend on market factors that seem beyond our control, though in reality are determined by the people feeding the market. Of course, their free will in all of this is debatable as well.
But the point is, people can work extremely hard, some harder than others, and those individuals may not reap the rewards because their skills are not what the market deems as the most valuable. In American, for example, it seems that good looks and the ability to cry on demand, superior athletic ability, and cunning, greed and ruthlessness in the business world are among the skills that have the most financial reward reaped upon them.
Yet, people often say they value empathy, compassion, honesty, hard work and kindness as valuable qualities, yet none of those, or even all of those together, generally lead to one capturing the American dream.
Of course, I am using generalizations and there are always exceptions to the rules, but it should be noted that exceptions are just that, exceptions, and generalizations account for the majority of experiences.
I should also note that there is no way to truly say that what society rewards is necessarily wrong, as it is, well, what society is currently rewarding.
But it is difficult when individuals make statements that the American dream is available to everyone or working hard will result in financial success. That implies that the poor do not work hard or that those who do not succeed in obtaining the American dream did not work hard or were somehow unworthy of success.
Some individuals, because of a variety of factors, will be unable to successfully pursue the American dream until, through a variety of ways, they are provided with the tools to do so. And even then, what if Penny, born to abusive parents but later given the tools, is ugly but wants to sing and the record label appreciates her superior voice but would prefer an individual who was more attractive, even if the voice was not as superior.
Of course there are exceptions that would appear to prove this generalization wrong, but it is misleading to use rare examples to discount the overwhelming numbers that support the generalizations.
I once knew an extremely wealthy individual who worked hard and played hard. I never saw anything wrong with that because he worked hard and people were buying his products.
But I did see something wrong when he remarked smugly that poor people needed to work harder and he didn’t feel sorry for them one bit.
He failed to understand that the fact he came from a privileged background, was attractive and had near unlimited resources to work with to help build his business were factors in his success. There is nothing wrong with that, but it seems unfair for him to claim that the poor were not working as hard as he was and were even lazy, when the individuals he was referring to didn’t possess the same advantages in their pursuit of the American dream.
Again, there is nothing wrong with him using his advantages to succeed, but he should not for a second assume someone without those advantages was lazy for not being as successful as he was.
The American dream does indeed appear to be alive and thriving, but for some, the cruel reality is they will never grasp it no matter how hard they work. That may or may not be all right, depending on the sort of society one wants to live in, but it at the very least, should be recognized and admitted.
Reach Editor Stephen Bartlett at firstname.lastname@example.org.