Archive for February, 2011

February 28, 2011

Deconstructing the American Dream

Image via Google

The American Dream is a term that is very common in American culture. Turn on the news on any given night and you might see a politician or three relying on it to drum up support for their policies. On the other hand, it has also been used as a way to attack opponents or political rivals. For example, Mitt Romney, a prominent Republican in an upcoming book accuses current President Barack Obama of trying to stifle the American Dream. He claims that the president’s policies will lead to the death of the dream. But what exactly does this mean? What is the American Dream?

According to Arnold Schwarzneggar, the former governor of California, the American dream is that “a once scrawny boy from Austria could grow up to become governor of California and stand in Madison Square Garden to speak on behalf of the president of the United States”. Yet David Abrahansen felt that “the American Dream is in part, responsible for a great deal of crime and violence because people feel that the country owes them not only a living but a good living.” Obviously, this simple phrase has taken on a complex meaning. However, for the man who coined the phrase, it’s meaning was much simpler.

In his book, The Epic of America, James Truslow Adams wrote that the American dream is a

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 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.

Simply put, the American Dream was intended to mean equality and opportunity for all.

This idea that America is a land of opportunity often brings immigrants into the country. These people come with the hope that they can make something of themselves by taking advantage of the resources that are available. Instead, they find that this notion is just a dream.

Perhaps, it never existed the way that Adams pictured. For one, America is not a land of equality. Back when Mr. Adams was coming up with the phrase in 1931, Black Americans could not even vote. It wasn’t until the 1960s that the Civil Rights Movement helped secure that right. And even in the 1960s, the dream still didn’t exist. Martin Luther King Jr., the most prominent Civil Rights activist of that era had a dream that “one day, this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal'”. His use of “one day” implies that in those days, America had not risen to those heights.

That day never came in the 1960s and it still hasn’t come today. The American dream is a pipe dream. It doesn’t exist in the real world and the fact that it is pursued keeps the American public hostage. As Florence King once said; “people are so busy dreaming the American Dream, fantasizing about what they could be or have a right to be that they’re all asleep at the switch. Consequently, we are living in the Age of Human Error.”

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February 22, 2011

Change is inevitable

Recently, change has been on my mind. Not the change that Barack Obama promised, but something a lot more personal to each of us. There is the time worn cliche that; “change is a good thing” yet I find that most people are afraid of change. Why is that? I think it’s because change for us represents something new, an X-factor of some sorts, an unknown. And fear of the unknown is one of the more common fears out there.

However, change should not be an unknown. Change is a reality and is consistent and a constant. Almost nothing is permanent but we like to pretend that our favorite things are and we make our decisions accordingly. Let’s apply this to the recent financial meltdown. It has been blamed on greed and rightfully so, but it is much more than that. A majority of the population did not imagine a world where things could be different. Tragically, we believed that the economy would always boom but the truth is where there is a boom a bust soon follows. What goes up will eventually come down. Had we been cognizant of this lesson, I believe we might have acted differently.

The world is changing. Democracy is spreading in places where we traditionally believed that it was impossible. The most amazing thing is that it is happening without direct American influence. We didn’t invade Tunisia or Egypt to set up democracy. Instead, these people are choosing it for themselves. In turn, this is sending shock waves throughout Africa and the Middle East. It is also forcing countries in the West to re-evaluate their foreign policies.

This is of course an oversimplification of a much more complex situation but remains a valid point. We need to embrace change and include it in our planning. Relationships evolve, the Stock Market goes up and down, jobs are gained and lost, and above all opinions change. Approach life with an open mind, challenge your assumptions constantly and do not be afraid to stretch yourself. Change is inevitable, and that is a good thing.

February 17, 2011

Learning to Listen

xcd.com via Google

One of the best things you can do for anyone is to listen to them. By so doing, you are affirming them, confirming that they are alive and that they do exist. Think about it. Without a voice, you do not leave a mark or a dent. Our voices are the ripples that we make in the pond of humanity. And with no one listening, these ripples go unseen. Yet, we do not listen to others. Taking things a step further, we do not know how to listen. There is a lot of vitriol, angst and pain around the world today and I believe that what we need are more ears.

It begins by asking the right questions and then doing more than just hearing an answer. You see, listening is more than just hearing what someone has to say. Listening is active while hearing is passive. To hear what a person says, all you have to do is receive the sound waves out of their mouth. Listening on the other hand, involves dropping all of your preconceived notions and ideas, and engaging a person with the goal of understanding them. Dropping our own perceptions, notions and ideas is the hardest part. Every time we talk to people, their voice is distorted by the soundtrack we have playing in our heads. To listen we have to turn off our music or take off our headphones and then we can hear the speaker’s song. When we do this, then they feel like they exist and are understood.This is most important when the person doing the talking is underrepresented in society. These are the people whose voices are the faintest. To continue with the analogy of music, their songs are almost inaudible and we need to turn up the volume.

But the underrepresented are not the only ones that should be listened to. Everyone should be listened to. Questions like; “How do you feel about…….?” or “Why did you do what you did…..” are very powerful. They give the person a chance to respond and be heard. We don’t have to agree with them, consensus can almost never be reached, but compromise can be achieved and that is more than enough. For example, I was in favor of the Health Care Bill that President Barack Obama’s administration passed. To me it was a no brainer that we needed a way to stop “pre-existing conditions” from being a part of Health Care conditions. But then I heard a parent of one of my students talk about the issue. He was losing a lot of work because of the new law and his family was being negatively impacted. I listened to him, not so I could formulate a response but to understand his story. He didn’t exactly cause me to change my stance but he did force me to re-examine how I saw things. Now when I meet someone who is anti Obamacare, I don’t automatically get defensive. I just wonder where they are coming from because of my new understanding. I probably won’t ever reach a consensus with them but I can definitely strike a compromise.

The current protests in Tunisia, Egypt, etc., present a wonderful opportunity for those of us in the United States. The people there want to be free from tyranny and we can definitely relate to that. But we haven’t always done that. According to Nicholas Kristoff in this article, American Foreign Policy has always seemed to revolve around our own selfish interests. We’ve made alliances with dictators in exchange for stability in the Middle East. This has caused us to appear to be anti democracy in the region. It was also responsible for the current Administration’s hesitancy to jump into the fray during the protest in Egypt. However, we can learn from this experience by listening to the people. Some of the Egyptian demonstrators kept saying that they wanted “freedom like there was in America”. This is great news for American interests and I think the Egyptians will work with us as long as we allow them to direct their country’s future. People will always tell you what they want and sometimes what they need if you’re listening.

February 14, 2011

The World’s newest Country facing new problems

On January 9, 3.8 million Sudanese turned out to vote on a referendum. The issue at stake was the fate of the people to the South of the country. Much of the nation’s resources, with oil being king, is found in the South. In spite of this, the region has largely remained poor and underdeveloped as the government in the North diverted most of the benefits to their own ends.  In 2003, this friction between the Northern based administration and the Southerners boiled over into war in Darfur. This war has been very controversial with much of the casualty unclear and Human Rights Groups calling it a genocide.  It ended with a cease fire in 2010, about seven years after it had begun.

The aforementioned referendum was to determine whether Southern Sudan should secede from the rest of Sudan. According to the results, 99% of the voters were in favor of the South being its own country. Surprisingly, the Sudanese government accepted the results and Southern Sudan was born. However, the Global Post reports that this new nation is facing some health issues. Hopefully, the United Nations and the rest of the West can come to their aid.

February 13, 2011

Multitasking and a resolution of sorts

Looking busy

According to Webster’s dictionary, multitasking is the “performance of multiple tasks at one time.” I pride myself at being a master at multitasking but somewhere between being unable to eat without a book, and checking my email while on the phone, I realized I had a problem.

For one, it is now practically impossible for me to focus on just one thing. I find my mind wandering while completing a task. For example, my television is on right now as I am writing this blog. I text and check email while I am at work, read while I listen to music and carry my computer everywhere if only to feel like I am doing more than one thing at once. My attention span is suffering for it and I now expect everything and everyone to grab me within the first few seconds or lose me.

More importantly, I am slowly losing my ability to actively listen. Actually, that is a bit redundant as listening is by nature active. So what I meant to say is that I am losing the ability to listen. This is a huge challenge as listening is key to my self image. I have trained myself over the years to really hear, to look beyond just words and dig deeper for hidden treasures. Something just has to change.

Therefore, I am making a resolution. Yes I realize that it is February 13 and that it is a bit late but I get to do what I want. And what I want is to make a resolution. My resolution is to focus on one thing at a time. I am going to intentionally avoid multitasking and choose quality over quantity. I will start with something simple like not reading while I eat……or having the television off while I blog or read. I hope that by so doing, I will get to fully enjoy each experience as unique. That I will devote all of my energy to one thing and be great as opposed to being average at a few things.