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What’s the American Dream mean to you?

July 04, 2013 By Joe Sheeran, Communications Director

Despite our great diversity, the notion of an American Dream unites so many people across, cultural, economic, faith and other backgrounds. While the concept binds us, we’ll all answer this question in a very different way. At points in our own lives, we’ll likely have vastly diverging, even conflicting ways to answer what the American Dream means to us.

At 19, the American Dream to me was material-based—a nice house, a good career, financial security, that sort of thing. At 29, doctors diagnosed my mother with Leukemia, shifting what I thought the American Dream should be to more communal-based goals, like affordable health care for everyone, paid disability leave, and cherishing the people around us.

Recent policy actions in Minnesota, at the U.S. Supreme Court, and in Congress serve as a good reminder on this day celebrating freedom. GLBT Minnesotans can now fully live their American Dreams. The U.S. Senate has lifted one barrier to those yearning to officially call themselves Americans.

Despite people coming to the new world for several centuries searching for new opportunity, the phrase "American Dream" is a relatively new term, first coined in James Truslow Adams's 1931 book The Epic of America.

Searching for input on this question, we found many folks hold more abstract views of the American Dream, demonstrating another irony of our nation. For example, the concept of individual liberty ties new Americans fleeing oppressive economic or political circumstances with far right conservatives. Freedom of speech amalgamates a vast array of otherwise conflicting groups. The right to question those in power unites liberals suspicious of police and military tactics with conservatives worried about regulatory oversight of business.

Here are some select views on the topic from Minnesotans and prominent national thinkers who weighed in on this question in a recent PBS special, with Bill Moyers.

Mary Tracy, Minneapolis
“It pays to keep an open mind, but not so open your brains fall out,” said author Carl Sagan.
An open mind – as a nation and as citizens – will embrace dissonant ideas, the brilliance of human diversity, technologies that enhance the human experience, wonders of science, the arts, communication, ways of governing, learning, the global infrastructure… Our common heritage will fuel our dream of what’s possible – if different.

Still, let’s not let our brains fall out. Perceptive paranoia must be the constant governor of an open mind. An open mind will invite, yet question, what passes for truth. The challenge is to honestly assess the nation’s narrative, the stories we tell ourselves and our children. The Dream is to cherish the eternal truths and leave the chaff blowing in the wind.

To live the Dream we as individuals and as a people must slow the pace so that our rattled brains get a grip on what matters. If we stop to think we may realize that, though accumulation of wealth can be calculated, there’s more to the American Dream.

Michelle Alexander, Civil Rights Attorney
My vision is for an America that is not colorblind, but rather an America that cares deeply for people of all colors. And that can see people in their uniqueness, in their individuality. That can see race and racial difference, and appreciate and celebrate our differences.

Abigail Disney, Filmmaker
My wish for the American dream is that we all remember what it is and that it really becomes available to all of us in this country and not the handful of people who have more advantages and more access to recourse when the dream is not true for them. So I hope that we all pitch in on the project of making this country as fair as we want it to be, as just as we wish it for it to be, and the beautiful, diverse symphony that we all love it for being.

Read the full list of responses from Billy Moyer’s Journal. These are just some ideas, what does the American Dream mean to you? Let us know.

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