Saturday, February 27, 2016

The American Dream: Magic or Myth – Introduction

NEW FEATURE: AUDIO VERSION – to listen instead of reading, click on the arrow on the player below. You may pause at any time by clicking on the pause symbol, then pick up where you left off by clicking the arrow again. Please leave comments below the printed post about your reaction to the audio version. I'm interested in your thoughts and feedback.

The United States of America, America the Beautiful and The American Dream are the name of our country, a common description and a widely used sentiment about what this country is all about.

Let me start out by saying I'm proud to be an American and glad, of all the places in the world I could have been born, it was here. Saying that, most people in what we call the “Free World” feel the same about their own countries and heritage. I believe that's the way it should be. However, The U.S. is where the largest number of immigrants migrate to and that includes coming from other “Free World” countries.

The appeal is several things. Chief among them is “The American Dream,” the land of opportunity. Another is the supposed freedom/liberty the country was founded on. Still another is the standard of living. And, of course, for many, the U.S. is a haven from tyrannical leaders and oppressive governments and societies. There are, of course, other appeals. These are the most obvious.

Listen to the Audio Version: 

Over the next weeks or months, however, long I feel I have something to add to this discourse about America and The American Dream, I am going to opine on the Magic and Myth of The American Dream. I plan approach the topic from a variety of directions. The topics to be covered will be many, since we, as a people, and this, as a country, are extremely diverse and complex.

I will draw on a broad array of sources for my writing, but remember, you will be reading my opinions. You may agree or disagree. That is always your right and privilege. My intention is not to change or convert you or your thinking to mine or any other school of thought. I do not have an agenda; political, economic, social or otherwise. I'm simply exercising my freedom of speech, as I currently interpret it.

Some will likely find my thinking and expression, thereof, politically incorrect and possibly discriminating. Tough! Deal with it or stop reading. I'm not holding a gun to your head. These are my thoughts and my writings. These “truths” are self-evident to me. If they are to you, also, and you're inspired and encouraged. I'm pleased. If you don't like what I have to say and are put off, again, I'm pleased. In either case, I made you take notice and THINK! I'm sure there will be those who will think I'm full of shit! I'm happy, again. At least you have an opinion.

This writing is not meant to change you or the world or save you and the world. I gave up my messiah complex a long time ago. I only hope to inspire and encourage anyone choosing to read this series of articles to examine your own life, dreams, motivations, reasons for your beliefs and objectives for the future as an individual and a member of a society.

Who Am I To Write This?

That's a fair question. I am you. I am your neighbor. I am your father, brother, son. I am your employer, employee, colleague, co-worker. I am your fellow club, association, religious organization member. I am the vendor, server, librarian, stranger driving or walking down the road. But, most of all, I am, a “free range human,” as described by my good friend, Ret. Admiral, Roger Gilbertson, in his book, A Free-Range Human in a Caged World: From Primalization into Civilization (A Finagle Watcher Book). I recommend this book to you, available from However, I suggest you expect to read something outside the box. Roger doesn't “color inside the lines.”

I began my journey nearly 71 years ago at this writing. I don't know whether it's by genetic disposition or by some factor of nurture that I chose the paths I took. As I look back at my own history, I realize I've always been that free range human, but it wasn't until the past eight or ten years when I finally began to see more clearly and focus on what I now call “living free.” I'm certainly not the only person to use that phrase and don't claim it as my own. However, how I define it for myself and live what it represents is completely unique to me. I've found that living free has finally allowed me to be happy on my own terms.

I was fortunate to have the privilege of earning a bachelor and masters degree at two fine institutions of higher education. I don't define myself by those degrees. They simply assisted me in learning the two primary things I learned in my very first college class as a brand new freshman at Montclair State College (now, Montclair State University) in Upper Montclair, New Jersey.

Mr. Herbert Reaske, my English professor, for that class, announced he was going to provide everyone sitting in that classroom with the sum total of our college education in two statements. He then proceeded to do so. First, he said, “You must learn to think critically.” Second, he went on, “You have to learn to burn the candle at both ends.” He said that critical thinking is what differentiate humans from lower animals that function primarily on survival instinct.

To this day, those two statements pervade everything I think and do, long after that quirky English professor has graduated to whatever reward he is due upon departing this life. I have, in the past, described the events and the people responsible for them as “pivotal events” and “pivotal people.” Life surely would have gone forward without these events and people. However, I'm convinced, not nearly in the same path. Better? Worse? There is, of course, no answer for that question. And, not all pivotal events or people result in positive outcomes. It's how applying critical thinking to these moments and people that ultimately determines the outcome.

I might note here, that my father didn't have the privilege and benefit of a college education (though he was determined I would have that advantage). However, that didn't stop him from becoming a very successful, highly regarded and respected, non-degreed electrical/mechanical design engineer. He was primarily involved in the inertial guidance systems used in the U.S. space program during the 1950's and 1960's. Before that, he invented components of the technology we came to know as the FAX machine.

My son, while I wanted him to have the advantage and benefits of a college education, of his own volition and choosing, chose not to take that path. Instead, he taught himself everything he needed to know in the emerging world of cyberspace as a graphic designer and Web developer. He also is a self-made success story, once again, proving that while college is nice and can be valuable, it's not necessarily the key or secret to a successful career and life.

I am also fortunate to be a member of, what I consider, an elite fraternity. I am one of only 7.34% of the total U.S. population who have lived in the U.S. since 1775 to be counted as a U.S. military veteran. Serving in the military wasn't part of my personal life plan. However, it was at a time when I had little choice in the matter other than to emigrate to some other country. I chose to “man up” and serve my country along with the approximately 40,000,000 other men and women who have that honorable distinction. And, once again, there were pivotal events and people involved.

I chose a life journey as an entrepreneur. I basically bootstrapped all my businesses. Did I become wildly successful and obscenely wealthy. Quite the opposite. However, as the lyrics penned by Paul Anka said (to a French composed melody), identified, mostly, with “Old Blue Eye's” rendition, go, “I Did It My Way.”

While I will never lay claim to anything other than having never taken “handouts,” I have experienced and enjoyed a rewarding and fulfilling professional and personal life. Again, I give credit to the many people who have worked with me in the jobs created through my various business endeavors as employees, partners, contractors and clients. There are a many pivotal events and pivotal people involved in this facet of my life, also. Their names and influences will appear in future articles.

I have experienced marriage and family life. Albeit, this is a facet of my life I can't claim being very successful at. I've been married twice and had a third long term relationship that could be characterized as similar to a marriage. There have been a couple other relationships, too. At this stage of my life, I choose to acknowledge only the first marriage/relationship as a true marriage. It lasted nearly 20 years and resulted in the most rewarding part of my life, my son. It was and will always be a rewarding, fulfilling and educational part of my experience of living.

I've also had both, what I'll characterize as, a religious life and a spiritual life. They are different in my definition, although there are some areas that crossover. I do not consider myself now, nor do I embrace any form of formal, organized religious denomination by traditional definition. I do, however, consider myself to be a spiritual being. This will be elaborated on in future writings.

There are many other facets to who Ed Helvey is. There are my opportunities to teach and instruct. My involvement in theatrical endeavors, the arts. My creative processes. My years of coordinating and running various kinds of events for various reasons and groups including one I recently retired from after a dozen years. There are also those I've befriended and those who have befriended me. This group is diverse from every aspect. It's also my greatest wealth and treasure after my son and family life of earlier years. These friends are my family now.

So, this is who I am to write this. I have a fantastic life of colors, gradients and textures making me as qualified as anyone else to expound on my current philosophies and opinions. While I'll cite other people and quotations, Most everything will be based on my personal life and experiences. You'll see The American Dream through my eyes. Perhaps, you'll identify with me. Perhaps, you'll think I'm all wet. And, perhaps, you'll feel like I'm targeting you in some positive or negative manner. I'm not.

The American Dream

Personally, I feel that “The American Dream” as its traditionally defined by so many people is a myth. The magic is created by each individual for himself or herself. I'll be debunking many of the misconceptions about how great America is. Don't misinterpret that statement. I'm not suggesting that America isn't exceptional. I'm simply saying, there is too much taken for granted. Reality may be very different from perception

As I pondered this topic to write on, I found an interesting article by Jonas Clark in the June 2007 issue of The “Atlantic” magazine. The article was aptly titled, In Search of the American Dream. Clark pointed out that the term, “the American Dream” was coined by James Truslow Adams in his book reviewed in the December 1931 issue of the the “Atlantic.” The book, The American Epic, pointed out that this dream “hand more to do with the idealism than material prosperity.” Adams wrote that the dream was “that 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.”

So, there is the first use of the term “American Dream” and what the author of the term defined this dream to be. Like so many things, words, phrases, formal names, etc., over time, are not only taken for granted, but become generic components of the language. The actual meaning becomes hazy, genericized or changed significantly. A few examples include such names as Kleenex, Kool-Aid, Post-It, Photoshop and Powerpoint. Processes like filming and taping are used when referring to video recording and audio recording, now, both done almost universally in the digital domain without the use of any form of film, audio or video tape.

It is my belief the same fate has befallen the term “American Dream.” While the most basic underlying definition as set forth by Mr. Adams in his 1931 book is still evident, the dream has been expanded and, in certain instances, become almost an aberration. The foundation of the dream, “opportunity for each according to ability or achievement,” seems to be more commonly considered to mean everyone should have equal opportunity garner virtually anything they want be it in career, home, material possessions or otherwise. Perhaps, my statement is a little broad based, however, it seems to be, perhaps, subliminally assumed by so many in today's society they are “owed” something. I don't know about you, but I've never felt anyone owed me anything other than that I performed a quality service for or delivered a quality product for.

When I graduated from college and graduate school, I had no expectation there was a dream job waiting for me because I had spent 10 ½ semesters filling my head with a lot of book learning and little or no actual skill development. I remembered what Mr. Reaske imparted on me in that first college class on my first day as a freshman. Now, that I had these pieces of paper, which is all they were, I needed to really start thinking critically and burning the candle at both ends (define that to mean working my ass off if I wanted to get somewhere). Oh, and the “real world” didn't fail me. There were NO DREAM JOBS at high wages waiting for me upon graduation.

Yes! There were a few people, as there always are, who stepped in it and fell into a dream job with higher pay. That was the exception, not the rule. All through my college career (and certainly, prior to being accepted to the college I attended) there were pivotal people who were in the right place at the right time for me. Call it fate or destiny or just call it dumb luck. Whatever it was, I have never forgotten the names or faces of these people, many of them, no longer on this Earth.

The lessons I learned and the doors that opened, or that I sought out and found a way to pass through I can credit to specific people. There is a saying about some people come into your life for a reason, some come into your life for a season and some people come into your life for life. The people who are there for a reason, fulfill that reason and are gone. The people who are there for a season, travel the road with you for as long as it takes until it's time for them to veer off on another path.

Those that are there for life are the people who help keep your head screwed on straight and are there when you need a good swift kick in the ass to get you straight again. They are also there when you may experience one of those life events that brings you to your knees. Those “lifers” are they to help you get back up and dust yourself off.

Everyone of these people are absolutely a vital part of who we ultimately become through our journey of life. I know some people who are so narcissistic, they believe the sun rises and sets around them. They have no idea how many people have supported them in so many ways. They also fall very hard should they lose that network of pivotal people.

Magic or Myth

I'm going to wrap up this first article with a few thoughts.

First, no man or woman is an island until himself or herself. (Thank you John Donne, 1624)

Second, no one is owed anything regardless of your birthright, station in life, intellectual ability, talent or educational achievement.

Third, the “American Dream” is not some ideological concept or right. It is “magic” and that magic is in each person. However, it is up to each individual to find that magic in himself and apply it.

Fourth, there is no “rose garden.” The “American Dream” is a myth to everyone who believes they are owed something or that a college or advanced degree and wracking up a huge educational debt to start your life with entitles you to anything. If that's where your head is, be prepared to be pretty disillusioned throughout life.

Fifth, the government is never going to do anything for you. The government's sole function is to self-sustain at the taxpayers' expense, to justify its existence by passing laws making life continually more complicated and requiring the government to grow larger and larger while becoming less and less competent. There are many more facets of government and I'll touch on those later, but believe me, the government has no part in the REAL “American Dream.”

So, if you dare, follow me on this excursion into the Reality of the “American Dream.” Agree with me, if you do. Refute me if you don't. Remember, this is my opinion based on my nearly 71 years of life experience in the land of the “American Dream.” My life has been good, not as good as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs or some greedy hedge fund operators on Wall Street, but good. I have few regrets with my life other than those I take personal responsibility for, usually for not thinking critically and actually thinking the government was there for me.

I don't expect you to change your thinking or direction in life. That's not my intention or my job. If you learn something, gain some inspiration and encouragement and you choose to alter your life and course. I'm happy for you. If you think I'm full of crap, that's just fine with me, too. You should continue down your road, just as you are. It's your life and it's not going to change mine one way or another. I simply bid you – live free and be happy. EH

Horn 2 (censor bleep) used under Creative Commons license - attribution HarryBates01- link


Richard Rosen said...

Looking forward to your new topic, The American Dream.

Here are some quotes I had gathered regarding your on-the-mark comment: “…pivotal people who were in the right place at the right time….,”

"It is so inspiring to look back and see how a handful of moments in your life define your destiny." The Surrender Experiment, Michael Singer

"The program was about half complete when my guardian angel sent me unasked for, but much needed, assistance. Some moments in our lives are marked by destiny." The Surrender Experiment, Michael Singer

"Our lives are shaped by our peak experiences. These episodes of transcendence are sometimes difficult to explain, but most people have a sense of the ministry of a reality above and beyond themselves that brings meaning to their lives." Meredith Sprunger

“At every crossroad in the forward struggle, the Spirit of Truth will always speak, saying ‘this is the way.’" Urantia Book

(Love the audio alternative Ed. I often listen rather than read. However, I couldn’t get it to play.)

Anonymous said...

Hi Ed, Well written sir. I to took the path less taken. Retired military where I obtained Warrent Officer. Come from a long line of people who do not accept charity from anyone. Also have my roots in the red clay dirt of America. Well thought out essay. HoboJoe

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

Thanks, Richard,

I always appreciate your thoughts in input. You always add a valuable dimension to my thoughts. I believe it adds to other readers' understanding of the "big picture" and how all this impacts their individual lives.

Regarding the audio feed. It worked when I put it up yesterday. I triple checked it. This morning, it was broke. So, I fixed it and triple checked it, again. And, it was working fine. I was out most of the afternoon taking care of some other things. When I checked it again, early this evening, it was broke again. So, I made a couple modifications and I triple checked it again and it was working as of about a half hour ago. I'll check it again later. I'm using the same audio player on this audio file I've been using the past couple years and all the other audio files still play just as they did when I put them up as long ago as 2013. So, I'm not sure what the issue is, but I'll keep watching it and hope I can find the problem if it's not corrected with the last fix I just did. I'll appreciate your feedback if you get to listen to it.


Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

Hey HoboJo,

Thanks for your kind compliment. Thanks for your service, also. We are a special group of people. It pains me to see what's happened to so many of our comrades at arms, many of whom didn't lose their lives, but due to the injuries they sustained (and especially the Vietnam era vets, my contemporaries, though I was never "in country," who came home to be cursed and spit at) have had much more difficult lives than what they expected. Such a loss of potential. I'm so glad the last few generations of vets haven't had to endure that. Yessir! There are still a lot of us who, like you and me, haven't expected anything for nothing.