Saturday, December 11, 2010

I Believe in the American Dream

There is an English school not too far from where I live. Twice a week the students have a club where they can go and speak about different topics in English. Most of these students are around my age and I have started going to get to know some locals who I can actually speak to (I hope that my Arabic will improve, but so far I can only have a very short conversation with most people I come in contact with.). I'm the only native English speaker there and they are thrilled that I have started coming. They have a variety of topics that they talk about and I love hearing their perspective and they love to hear about America, or what I, as an American, think about things. These meetings always get me thinking critically, and today was no exception.

I used to think that I wanted no part in the American dream. I'm quite content with not being rich, or even necessarily well-off. My joy in life comes from knowing Jesus, not from having the perfect things, being in a great position in my job, or even being a good person with good friends. These are all things that, for the most part, I could care less about. They will never be my goal in life. But today my eyes were opened in a new way to what the foundation of that "American Dream" is, and how much it is a part of me.

One guy at the club is quite vocal about how he dislikes his country and really wants to be American. Today it came up that many of these young people really have no hope for their country. Most of them want to get out so that they can have better lives for themselves. They say that nothing will really change because there are so many problems and that no one will ever come around to fix them. This sits in direct juxtaposition with how proud they are of their country and how they think it can be the greatest country in the world. Now, I started thinking about what I thought about America. Do I love it? Absolutely! I did not move away because I was disgruntled. Am I always happy with the way things work there? No. The government has it's ups and downs, and sometimes I can be quite upset with it and even the citizens as a whole. I think that most Americans have the same view point. So what is the difference in thinking between me and them? It's the American Dream that I have. Not the American Dream that I can have a nice house with a car and 2.3 children, but the American Dream that I can impact my world.

A common colloquialism going around currently is "Be the change you want to see in the world." It something I tend to live by. If I don't like something that is going on, I must be the one to influence it and change it. I can't wait around for someone else to do it. The people here agreed with that last part, that they can't really trust anyone else to change things. But they don't believe that they can be that change. It's really sad. These are definitely the people that have some of the highest education in their generation here and they are the ones who could lead their country, but they don't believe that it's possible. They don't think that they could be the one to start turning their country into what they want it to be. Maybe it's because they don't have examples, and, granted, their government does not work like ours and has more problems and they have different circumstances and obstacles to overcome. It shocked me though, that none of them even seem willing to try. They don't believe that they could change anything for the country and so they'll work towards leaving it, obtaining a better life for themselves, and leave the country they are proud to be citizens of to its own demise.

I never realized how American my thinking was until tonight. I wish I could make them see that they hold the key to their country's success in their hands if they are willing to fight to find where to use it. But it's just not their way of thinking. Instead, I will work at being the change I want to see and hope that maybe they will begin to work for the future of their country in their own way. I will hold tightly to the American Dream that I can change do anything I want and change my world.

Well, if you made it the end of this post, I'm impressed! I realize that it was an essay, or maybe just rambling thoughts. My next post will be lighter and more fun, I promise!


Neil said...

Extremely well-said, Leah, and wise not just beyond your years but beyond almost anyone's years. But NEVER apologize for dealing with philosophy and politics and culture and morality. That's part of the change we all need you to be!

In social science, the concept you are discussing is often called efficacy, and it comes in many varieties: political efficacy, collective efficacy, etc. It is routinely one of the biggest correlates of economic development and political reform, and Americans have long been world leaders in efficacy scores. It stems from selective immigration of entrepreneurial people, the challenge and inspiration of the Western frontier, and from Protestant and Enlightenment ideals of equality and self-reliance. It can seem very difficult to plant in hostile soil, but history is full of stories of people who discovered their efficacy and began to live it. Many of these transformations came together with revival, like the Great Awakening in America and the revival among Welsh coal miners documented by Rees Howell.

Look for small wins your friends can pitch in to achieve and never stop encouraging them to see what they are capable of. And don't lighten up here just to go easy on your readers. As Alexis de Tocqueville observed in the 1830's, America was built by a population that took seriously the everyday politics of barn-raising and road-building. We can use your perspective on how your friends face the struggle to become responsible for their country's welfare.

A simple idea, for starters: a support group and small-scale, personal movement to refuse to pay bribes or engage in any other kind of privilege-buying. Corruption is the number one enemy of success in developing countries, and even a small group of people with a reputation for integrity at all times become a magnet for investment and success. Whether you pursue this idea or some other, go for it, in Jesus' name!

Larisa said...

"Be the change you want to see in the world."-Gandhi
That right there is the beauty of globalization haha. The American dream you speak of doesn't just lie in America, but, we are one of the few born with the power/influence to use that dream no matter what country we are in. :)