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“Pull yourself up by the bootstrap”; “with hard work every one can achieve whatever you want”; “if you teach poor people how to budget they can get out of poverty”; “the American Dream is available to everyone”; “you can be whatever you want to be”; “everyone has an opportunity to be successful in life”; “there are more jobs than people willing to work”; “people choose to be dependent on government”; “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for lifetime”; and “half of the people in the USA are dependent on the government, feel they are victims and do not take responsibility for life” are all expressions, in my opinion, of the great American myth: being American means that with hard work you be what you want to be in life.
When you paraphrase so many expressions of the same thought it seems exaggerated. But in the last few weeks I have heard similar expressions of this myth from Democrats, Republicans, good Christian and non-Christian, liberals and conservatives, and poor and rich. My friend and I had to skip a social justice meeting tonight because some suburban people were going to tell us how we can teach poor people we visit how to budget. When you are struggling for survival, food and shelter how do you budget?
In the Gospel I do not hear any of this myth, but just the opposite, to feed the hungry, cloth the naked, blessed are the poor. The American Myth that you can be all you want to be, as they say, in the military commercials, does not mean spiritually but materially.
When I was unemployed and with a family and people asked me: “What do I do?” I knew they meant what kind of work for a living I do. Sometimes I would have the courage to say “nothing”. When I retired people would say that you should be glad you do not need to work. The truth is I work harder, although often it is what I want to do, after retirement.
My wife says that since I write so much I should write a book that could be published. Would my writings be any more meaningful if they made money? I live a ‘good life’ and feel blessed but it has little to do with hard work and more to circumstances. The great American myth is used to keep people in their place.