By Brendan Klein
How many of you have heard the tale of Sisyphus? The man whose sole torment is to roll a rock to the top of a hill, only to have it knocked back down whenever he gets close to the summit. Or maybe the tale of Tantalus, the source of the word tantalizing, who cannot drink from the water he stands in or eat the fruit of the tree he stands under.
These ancient Greek myths are uncannily relatable to many Americans. Millions of men and women have been tantalized with the concept of the American Dream, metaphorically and literally. They have been promised fruit and water that they will never be able to reach. This disparity of expectations and ability has eroded our nation’s confidence in the attainment of the American Dream. It is from this deception that we have a moral obligation to either lower expectations, or enhance people’s ability to pursue the Dream they have been promised.
So let’s talk about fairness in the context of the American Dream. For this article, I am defining the American Dream in the words of James Truslow Adams as “a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to
obtain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable.”
Within this definition there, is no talk of equal outcome, only the ability to rise to one’s fullest potential through hard work and discipline. The problem is that we have fundamental advantages and disadvantages in our society that makes this definition impossible to uphold at this time.
These advantages and disadvantages can be visualized in the context of a race. A fair race would have everyone start at the same line, at the same time. But we have nothing near a fair race in America. If someone does not get a college education, they have a hurdle put in their lane that a college educated person does not have. If they have pre-existing conditions or a disability, face racial or gender discrimination or do not speak English, another hurdle is added.
The biggest hurdle that we face today is birth status. A Brookings Institute study shows that 40 percent of children born in the top 20 percent stay in the top 20 percent, while 40 percent of those born in the bottom 20 percent stay in the bottom 20 percent. In a completely fair world, a child should have a 20 percent chance to stay in the income bracket they were born into. When these hurdles” are added up, it makes it harder for people to achieve the Dream, leaving doubt in the American system, depression and a sense of failure.
As Americans, we can all agree that we do not need to hand out participation medals in this figurative race, but that it is equally unfair to crown a winner before the race even starts.
To ensure the equal pursuit of the American Dream, we must remove the hurdles that are placed in people’s lanes.
Essentially, we must ensure that everyone can pursue the Dream. This means equal access to education, fair wages, health insurance, equal employment and multilingual communication.
As the next generation of leaders, innovators and well off we must choose whether we want to help people push their rock up the hill, or knock it back down. One of these options will help uphold the American Dream; the other would surely destroy it.
This is the opinion of Brendan Klein, SJU junior