The Imperative of Impertinence

“The American Dream” has been the root hope of America’s emigrants and aspiring capitalists, alike. It was planted in American’s Declaration of Independence, fertilized by girding language like “all men are created equal” and they are “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights” including “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” – and watered by sweat.

Yet today, it is framed in social and economic catastrophes of our young 21st Century, overpowered by the Great Recession and the crisis of leadership that plagues us.

The belief that one could move from the lower class to middle class, and middle class to upper class, has propelled productivity and rewarded achievement, if only hope held. The reputation of the American worker for personal sacrifice, continuous training and development, and a growing standard of living that paralleled growth in productivity materialized from fervent Dream to fact.

But, let’s be clear: This Dream was never the heart swell of the “high born”. The American Dream is the stuff of becoming, not the code for upper class entitlement. The power of this Dream propelled our culture, with or without the cooperation of the upper class. Yet, despite arrogant ignorance, the “upper class” is supported fundamentally by the strivings of those of lesser means and status.

Hope – manifesting particularly in a middle class dream of advancement – is economically essential to a growing and healthy America.

But today, the predisposition about the Dream erodes weekly, from broken optimism to despair. There is an invisible point in a culture – a country or a company – when the aspiring lower and middle class sense the game is fixed against them. It is OK for the game to be challenging. But there is a point at which it slowly implodes. Hope must be sufficient.

A National Dream persists hopefully when it isn’t awakened by too much dysfunction masquerading as leadership. There is a controversial tipping point at which the Dream implodes.

There have been periods in our history when we have been too long in very controversial wars. We have survived political campaigns of unprincipled negativity. There have been times when the lack of statesmanship and maturity in government has been perfectly mystifying. But always, there is a way up and out.

When those in authority fail, our mature responsibility is to help them to reform or to aid their quiet exit. Most troublesome to me is the degree to which Americans today have fallen into an adolescent stupor of support for superficial, greedy executives and elected officials.

Scarce is the reliance on elder wisdom that characterized wise civilizations. Too many boards of directors, greasy with collusion to maximize shareholder wealth regardless of the cost, can’t even spell w-i-s-d-o-m much less dispense it. Those directors rationalize “wisdom” as self-serving when they hire the CEO for conspiracy. They have largely escaped public scrutiny, yet they share significant responsibility for hope’s deflation.

History reminds us, in small stories, of the signs of impending social tragedy; narcissism blinds and binds. Looking back, in 1928 the signs of the Great Depression where pretty obvious when the shoeshine guy was selling investment advice.

Today, what’s foretold in the departure of previously intimidating despots in the Middle East? What is the deeper meaning of crumbling national currencies? What does it mean when GM evolves from repaying TARP funds and their greatest growth market is the People’s Republic of China?

Why is there calm when clergy and politicians arrogantly limit God’s will, using legislation, tax law and constitutional amendments to specify the boundaries of a human being’s right to unite with God through ordination, baptism, communion, and marriage? Who hath hope?

Parents, have we become less responsible for core social values, but more moved to lives of convenience – parenting kids by asking them how they wish to be raised?!!

Goethe warned us: “Nothing is as terrible to see as ignorance in action.” The dissolving American Dream is a play of ignorance. It is a fool’s bet to wait for dysfunctional, disproportionately comfortable “leaders” to become effective.

Still, each day presents alternatives. The solution awaits constructive impertinence, guided by core social values, thoughtfully and courageously questioning authority.

What’s your responsibility for hope, and just what do you intend to do about it? 

[This article appeared in Charlatan Magazine.]