Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Optimism requires hard work. And that's the point.

Optimism has long been a uniquely American trait. It defines who we are. We are a nation of people who believe tomorrow will be better than today. It is why our forefathers and mothers risked long ocean voyages in search of a new world, why settlers in wagons ventured ever westward and why immigrants continue to come here by any means possible, by plane or make-shift raft from Cuba. (As a Pakistani born son of Irish immigrants, it is why I am here today.)

Our ingrained sense of optimism was set in motion by our founding story, fueled by generations of immigrants and reinforced by years of abundance and success.

Lately, though, I've come to wonder if our definition of optimism, or more pointedly our underlying motivation, has changed over the past decade, perhaps not in a good way.

American optimism was always an extension of our "can do" spirit. Anything was possible if we worked hard enough to make it happen. Our optimism sprang from hard work, not hope. We knew tomorrow could be better for us and our children if we rolled up our sleeves.

Recently, however, optimism evolved to become an entitlement, no longer an earned reward. We bought houses bigger than we could afford because we had every reason to believe we would get another raise or that our portfolio would continue to grow. We used magic money -- a.k.a., home equity loans -- to buy the muscular SUVs we coveted. We didn't have to work any harder. Good things just happened.

While the current recession has shaken our confidence, recent polls suggest that President Obama is inspiring us to find reasons to be hopeful once again.

I am hopeful the current "cleansing" process will bring us back to the true definition of American optimism. Tomorrow will be better than today, but only if we roll up our sleeves and earn it.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am disturbed by your imaginary vision of American history and identity. Optimism is "uniquely American". I sincerely hope (am I being optimistic?) that you aren't really suggesting that we invented optimism or that this sentiment is what makes us different from all other nations. A tad ego-centric, wouldn't that be?

And the idea that optimism drove the huddled masses here? How about persecution? greed? ignoring that the people who already lived here were actually people and people who had a right to their land and resources (let alone human rights)? I'm not saying our ancestors were solely based on these principles, but let us not idealize the past with a light knock on the shoulder and an "aw shucks".

Finally, let's just roll up our sleaves and "can do" it? I believe that optimism is giving way under the reality that we are not purely a meritocracy. That those who do well aren't determined by hard work and a tenacious spirit. Maybe it would be truer to say that we have to roll up our sleaves for JUSTICE. That justice isn't just going to fall in our laps and that just being American and being full of "optimism and hard work" doesn't make what we are doing just.

Let's not get so inspired looking forward with the messages of a new president that we color the past falsely. Let's be real, work hard, and know change this real for something more idealistic. That's optimism... I hope.

David Murphy said...

Hey Anonymous...I respect your POV and your candor. There's nothing imaginary in the description, simple facts. More people come to America in search of opportunity than anywhere else. We are far from perfect. And that's the point. We continue to work toward perfecting an ideal simply because it is worth it. As the foreign born son of immigrants, I know what this has meant in my life. Again, thanks for chiming in. Very cool.