Why fit in when you were born to stand out? ~Dr. Seuss
I have nothing against owning a home and knocking out a few puppies to carry one’s name into the future. Having children is wonderful, fulfilling. It is quite possibly the most rewarding and challenging activity undertaken by human beings in their short time on this planet. That is, if it’s done correctly, if one put’s his or her heart into the children and suffers the pain of raising them into adulthood, bringing them into a place where they have grown enough to move into adult life and have their own brood instead of acting as if parenthood is complete with the breeding act.
The problem I have with the American Dream is the part about being average, about fitting in, about blending in with everyone else, about the homogenization of a people at the expense of their God endowed qualities making each of them unique as a snowflake, that make them different from everyone else toddling around on this beautiful little planet which is hurtling through the heavens which, as far as we know, is alone in the universe in that it contains sentient life.
The greatest irony of our quest to ‘fit in’ during our formative years is that we aspire to emulate the pioneers, those that marched to the beat of their own drum. We seek to express our individuality by purchasing and wearing the products of the one off artist instead of being an artist ourselves and creating our own look, instead of wearing our own art. If every one buys the same unique item it’s no longer unique.
By extension of fitting in, we tend to keep to America. The percentage of Americans having a valid US passport in 2012 was about 30% a number that doubled from 2001. Compare this with 60% of Canadians having a valid passport and 75% of UK residents with a passport. It seems that Americans are comfortable in their own environment and, by extrapolation, are less than comfortable in non American environments thus the popular depiction of the ugly American tourist.
For me, the biggest problem with the American Dream is that for most Americans, the world begins and ends at the US border. There is a huge world out there that, if explored, forever alters the myopic view too many of my fellow Americans take to the grave. I have had the good fortune of traveling to England, Germany, India, Italy, Jamaica, Switzerland, and Turkey with hopes of many more countries in the future. Next year a trip to the Philippines is in the cards with Africa, Australia, and Indonesia nearing the top of the deck.
Each culture blesses me in ways I would not be blessed had I not broke free of US borders. Each has ia unique cuisine that expands my palette allowing me to savor flavors that, if I never left the US shores, would not have danced upon my tongue. These are flavors that, though we try, just cannot be reproduced in the US because our food growing habits are very different from other parts of the world.
Each culture bares to me it’s history and architecture and art and mind sets vastly different than that produced on this land bounded by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. History that was already old when the USA was birthed by people seeking to escape their own culture and create a new way of life.
Each country I visit exposes me to differing views of life, differing values, values that are the pillars upon which the societies are built, pillars that shape thought and language and actions. I have been to Zurich Switzerland which is currently rated the most expensive city in the world to live in and to Mumbai India where I have seen poverty the tore at my heart.
I am not saying Americans should explore other countries at the expense of seeing the US. Our country is vast and wonderful and worth every minute spent contemplating the mountains, plains, and deserts and the many sub cultures unique to the four corners of our lands. I have been to many States and appreciated them all, some more than others.
Nor am I saying those other cultures are better than mine and, conversely, I am not saying they are worse. They are merely different. And it is precisely those differences that help me to identify and understand my own cultural biases and predilections, help me to better appreciate the culture from which I sprang. It’s those differences that add fragrance to my life.
It is by virtue of venturing to other countries that I have been able to develop a deeper empathy for people, that I have a broadened my understanding of others which has helped me become more fully human.
The tragedy of the American dream is that it tends to isolate us not allowing us to drink deeply from the cup of cultural diversity. The tragedy of the American dream is the mindset of ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ instead of blazing our own trail. The tragedy of the American Dream is that we aspire to fit in with the average Joe instead of allowing our uniqueness to speak volumes.