The impetus behind this country was and continues to be the human spirit that desires to realize true freedom and express creative potential so that we not only survive, but thrive.
We are going through an identity crisis. Perhaps the whole world is.
This isn’t the identity crisis of gender, race, or sexuality that is currently breaking wide open as we mature into the awareness that nature offers abundant variety. This is an existential crisis of what we as a people collectively value—the meaning and purpose behind our lives that propels us toward an unknown future.
Let’s revisit American history to see how our whys have transformed over the years.
The original thirteen British colonies that made up the first states of a new nation fled England to escape European religious persecution—our first why. The signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1787 codified our political why.
One of the difficulties that plagued our fledgling republic was financial. But, wise and skillful founding fathers, along with the grit of hard labor, voluntary and forced, began constructing a strong foundation that would come to underpin our nation’s success story.
Nationalism exploded after the War of 1812. We then busily focused on economic growth. Building the country and territorial expansion became our next why as we became the world’s leading agricultural nation.
Social reform turned our attention to the betterment of the quality of American life and the abolishment of slavery. The end of Civil War led a deeply wounded nation to seek to reconstruct a unifying why once more.
Industrial growth took our nation into the 20th century. Banking and corporate monopoly boom/bust cycles led to the Great Depression. Calls to end corruption, and for economic, political, and social reform grew louder. Our new why became the demand for opportunity, worker protections, and the reduction of poverty.
A global powerhouse post two world wars, America experienced an economic boom that spread wealth to more Americans than ever before. While our global why was the containment of communism, our domestic why became the pursuit of the American Dream.
The American Dream was first defined by James Tuslow Adams in his 1931 book, The Epic of America: “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”
This ethos mirrors the Declaration of Independence’s proclamation that, “all men are created equal” with the right to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Upward mobility the heart and soul of the American Dream, equality naturally reemerged as a perilous wound now festering upon our nation’s soul.
The perversion of the American Dream began with marketers redefining it to mean that happiness, success, and human value are determined by one’s ability to consume. This message has been pumped into our cultural psyche by the media long enough that materialism became this nation’s last why—the spread of freedom our global why.
America’s narrative isn’t just an economic one. The impetus behind this country was and continues to be the human spirit that desires to realize true freedom and express creative potential so that we not only survive, but thrive.
Many have already realized that materialism alone is not meaningful enough to sustain oneself, a nation, or even the human species. It’s time for a new why: each other.
Essentially, we must realize that we are interconnected and interdependent. If this is true, the only meaningful endeavor is to be in service to one another in one or more of an infinite number of ways that you would enjoy. If our species is to survive, our why must reflect this, therefore ending our existential crisis.
The Millennials, ages 18-33, are the first to recognize this. Millennial Impact Project data lists Gen Y as the first generation with a quantifiable desire to “do good” via involvement in social causes. Service to self is limited. We must ultimately end exclusivity which is a blight upon humanity.
Rather than continuing to narrowly define family, let us become one big family so that we can finally begin to heal. Join with those already living and celebrating their new why. Not just for America, but for the world.
What’s your why?
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