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The Cost of Chasing After the “American Dream”

For this blog to be a helpful resource the posts need to address the issues and struggles of its readers. Therefore, to get a pulse on the audience, the first month of posts will be excerpts—intentionally provocative excerpts—from my book Dying to Control that will hopefully spark conversation.

This first excerpt comes from chapter 1, addressing the issue of personal relationships and how we, in American society, have sacrificed our personal relationships for the sake of chasing after the “American dream.”

Do you trust me?” is the central question of personal relationships. Trust is what binds people together. The extent to which we experience trust with one another will determine the depth of each relationship. For example, we typically proclaim our love to another only after we’ve gained a level of confidence that the other will gently handle such sensitive news. Once we express our love, we wait in exposed anticipation to see how it’s received. If it’s handled well, we deem the water safe for experiencing deeper expressions of trust.

            Yet regardless of how safe we feel in any personal relationship, exhibiting trust assumes certain risks. Whether we trust someone with privileged information, material goods, or our lives, to trust is to run the risk of being betrayed, rejected, or maybe even abandoned. Personal relationships do not come with any contractual guarantees. Once formal agreements enter a relationship, that aspect of the relationship is defined by impersonal terms. There is no way to escape the fact that investing in personal relationships demands personal risk.

            Given the uncertainty of personal relationships, it’s reasonable to question whether they are worth pursuing. What if a person, after being betrayed or abandoned, concludes that engaging in personal relationships is just not worth the risk?…

Impersonal relationships now dominate our society. Buying a product without a contract or written guarantee is seen as foolish or naïve. Privacy fences in our suburban communities allow us to ignore our neighbors. A conversation without purposeful intent is considered lost time. Productivity, productivity, productivity is our consuming obsession. Who has the time, energy, or interest to just be with other people? What a waste—right?

The exchange of personal for impersonal relationships has not just affected our human interactions. The exchange has transcended into the God-human realm as well. In American society, we generally view our relationship with God as a contractual exchange of products and services. We try to live by the rules of our respective faiths while God doles out rewards and punishments in response to our successes and failures in meeting the terms of the agreement.

For those who claim to have a personal relationship with God, tragedy can quickly reveal how impersonal that relationship may actually be. The common expressions “What did I do to deserve this?” and “God, what do you want from me?” question whether I (or maybe God) failed to meet some requirement of the God-human contract. Prayer during times of trial can also sound impersonal. Take for example these timeless, fill-in-the-blank prayers of desperation: “God, if you ________, I’ll never _______ again”; “God, if you _______, I promise to _______”; and “God, what do you want me to do for you to _______?” Such prayers do not sound like personal appeals to God; instead, they sound like attempts to negotiate a new contract with an old business partner. …

            With “I” at the heart of Western religion and psychology and with the belief that the individual is at the center of the universe, we are gradually losing our identity as relational beings. Achieving financial freedom and self-sufficiency in every imaginable aspect of life has become the American dream, with even God being portrayed as a means for reaching our own individualistic ends.

What do you think? Enrich the conversation by sharing your thoughts and questions.

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About Leon Hayduchok

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