I read an article yesterday entitled The Rage in America’s Soul which begins as follows:
”I have lived all over the world. And I would like to gently confess: I have never seen a place with so much rage in its soul - not even an iota as much - as America.”
The article points to the recent mass shootings as well as the general state of social discourse in the US and goes on to ask why – why is there so much anger in our country at this moment?
It is an interesting article, well worth the read, that explores the question from a philosophical and existential perspective. Rather than allotting blame to this party or that, to this class, this race, this gender etc., the author explores the more inward struggles that we all face as Americans – the imperative to succeed, to excel, to stand out, to live the great American Dream.
What is the American Dream? Is it possible that it has been misinterpreted and/or disfigured? Perhaps it’s one of those dreams that begins peacefully enough, but gradually grows more strange and menacing until finally we find ourselves sweating, tossing from side to side, and trying desperately to wake ourselves from the nightmare.
The American Dream began as a promise of freedom, equality, and opportunity. It was an image of a new land where hard work would yield an honest day’s pay; where people would be free to practice the faith they choose; where (ideologically at least if not necessarily in practice) a person’s race and/or gender would not put one at a disadvantage.
Nowhere in that original dream was there the promise of great wealth or fame. The dream was not to be better than others, to stand out from the crowd, but rather to be valued equally with others and to have the opportunity to be secure and safe and not to worry whether there would be food on the table tomorrow.
Today the American dream is associated with wealth and renown. We want to be rich and famous, rock-stars and millionaires. We’re waiting to be discovered – it can happen to any of us at any time. Talent shows proliferate, and we applaud children when they get on the air and tell us their fantasies of fame - “I’m here because I want to be a star!”
We live in a land of star worship. We gaze longingly upward and wish we could be one of those flickering idols. We awaken from the dream and find ourselves woefully earthbound. And we are disappointed. We are disappointed in ourselves, and we are soon angry at those who are somehow responsible for our lack.
We are angry. We find someone to blame. We rail at the injustice.
But who is it that is responsible for our “failure”? Sure we can point to those who are selling us the dream and getting rich off of our vain attempts to acquire something that we will never have. But what if we find that those snake oil salesmen are no more happy and no less angry than we are? They may be wealthy, they may be “living the dream,” but they are also enraged. They’ve reached the top only to find that money can’t buy you love, that fame is the greatest loneliness, that power corrupts and that in spite of all of their finery, the void within has not been filled.
What if we stop allocating blame, and begin taking responsibility?
It is obvious that there are inequities in our country, that there are many who are hurting, and many complex problems to resolve. But it is also clear that our anger is not leading us to progress or relief. Our rage is exacerbating the issues rather than assuaging them.
The American Dream began with the ideas of liberty, equality and community. We would be free to disagree, and we would respect one another enough to collaborate and innovate not in spite of, but on account of, our great diversity.
Rage is en vogue in many circles today, but it will not lead us out of this morass. What we need at this moment is a re-evalutaion of our dream; a review of, and recommitment to, the principles on which we as a nation were founded; a renewed awareness of the commonality that we share as human beings who are all doing the best we know how.
The way to address and alleviate the rage that is currently bubbling toward the boiling point around us is to identify and mollify the anger that is within us. We can, and must, learn to passionately pursue the issues that are meaningful to us without alienating and demonizing those with whom we differ.
It is only as a collaborative that we will be able to assure that the genuine American Dream is available to all, and it is only with patience and compassion that we will convince the other to join us at the table and collaborate.