America is supposed to be a land where any genius can have an amazing idea, dare to dream big, and make a fortune. He can make multiple fortunes, should he dare to dream appropriately large. Why is it that the dream always seems to involve big sacks of money? Why do we always seem to insist that a person of talent should use those talents to place himself in a part of the population that dominates the economy without giving back as much as it received?
I remember when I first wanted to be a teacher. It was in ninth grade. I had had some amazing teachers in my life and they were beginning to have an effect on me. I knew I was smart and that I could be an amazing teacher. I dreamed of teaching, not money.
I even tried not teaching in my life not once, but twice. In college, I started out majoring in chemical engineering. I kept the major for a year, but I never really had my heart in it. After teaching for five years, I quit because I couldn’t stand the Dallas ISD administration’s corruption and went into the IT sector. All the time I was making great money fixing computers, I wished I was teaching. In 2002, I took a 40% pay cut and kissed my $0 copay insurance good-bye and returned to teaching.
We’ve had some hard times financially in my family since then and every now and then I ask my wife if I should quit teaching and go back to IT. She tells me no. The money is not as important as the work I do. I’ve got a chance to live my dream, and I’m so thankful that she supports me.
I wish I could say the same for my nation.
At a time when a big chunk of the nation’s best and brightest were doing complicated mathematics to rip off millions of home buyers and investors, I taught in a classroom. The ripoff kings and queens were hailed on the news for giving new life to the American Dream, and I taught in a classroom. As the wealth flowed uphill from the poor to the rich and the rich found new and clever ways to not pay taxes, I taught in a classroom. As the crooks and cons paid for Senators and Congressmen, keeping themselves out of jail with intact bonuses, I taught in a classroom. As the people in the fancy suits plunged the nation into an economic state that truly warrants comparison to past economic collapses, I taught in a classroom.
Now the same people that ruined my nation are telling me there isn’t enough money to be found to provide for the poor in health care and education. What they call the American Dream was actually a disguise for their Old World rapacity.
We need to redefine the American Dream. It should not be winning the lottery. It should not be selfish. It should not be acquiring endlessly, consuming eternally. It should not be where, in the pursuit of money, we forget our humanity and souls.
The American Dream should be where, first and foremost, we help each other out of the goodness of our hearts. There will always be crooks that cheat their way to the top. We can’t stop them. But we don’t have to sing their praises, either. We may not be able to deny them their ill-gotten gains, but we can deny them the one thing they crave at the end of the day: legitimacy. Success is not found in a bank account. It is found in the guest list at one’s funeral. It is found when you’re scattering the ashes from The Living Urn. It is found in the hearts of people one has freely helped over the years. It is found in places far, far away from conference rooms and country clubs.
Although I reach at most a few hundred students each year, I know I have done much more to make my nation great than the CEO of Lehman Brothers. Even though I have made mistakes in my career, I have caused less ruin than the CEO of AIG – even though I have not been as handsomely compensated for my mistakes as that chap. When I encourage my students to do something, I am not as the CEO of Goldman Sachs, who had his company take up market positions that would profit when his clients went bankrupt. No, when I tell my students to do something, success is not found in a cashier’s check or stock price uptick. Success is found in the smiles of their little victories.
The American Dream needs to encourage service, not profits. Only then will we gain a truer perspective of how we should live and conduct our affairs as a people. Only then will our corporate and national morals be every bit as firm and fit as our personal morals. Otherwise, the American Dream will be unfit for reality.