From the very beginning, the United States was founded on the concept that anyone could become anything they wanted. It was never a guarantee, but it was the concept of a “fair chance.” The dream meant a “fair chance” to achieve what a person desired, no matter where they were born or the circumstances of their birth. Government is not supposed to block a person’s path, and everyone should be offered a fair chance to compete.
What we have seen in the last decades has been an eroding of that confidence in the American way. Here are some examples of the erosions:
- Well connected and wealthy families cheat to get their kids into prestigious colleges and universities. Cheating to win.
- Doors to jobs and opportunities seem to open for people who have the right family connections and right school ties. Connections to win.
- If you are not born in America or were born poor, you are perceived as less qualified and looking for a “hand out,” or as a person who is gaming the system. Born here to win.
- If you are a person of color, have a different accent or religious beliefs, you don’t fit in. The look to win.
The United States has historically liked self-made people and distrusted the privileged children of the rich. We are quick to hate the phrase, “Don’t you know who I am.” We hold in high esteem people like Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, Abraham Lincoln, and Andrew Carnegie — all self-made people. Here are several fundamental truths that we hope are still true in America:
- Everyone is supposed to get the opportunity to pursue the life he/she wants. Nobody should choose your path, except you. You can try things no one thinks will work. You can create disruptions in ideas, products or processes, and neither the government nor other citizens get to stop you in the name of stability or status quo.
- All the doors to every field are supposed to be open to everyone, no matter a person’s background or belief. Advancement is supposed to be based on grit and merit. The best person wins.
- No one is supposed to get special treatment based on social standing, wealth, or influence. There are to be no promotions that are not earned, no privileges others do not enjoy, no exceptions to the rules others have to follow. A person has to stand in line like everyone else.
What we have seen in the past is that some groups, such as women, minorities, and new arrivals, have unfair barriers placed in front of their dreams. Some believe America is not living up to its high ideals because of increasing disputes over equity, fairness, culture, and change. Many people believe the people in charge neither like them nor intend to give them a fair opportunity.
Disruptive change is challenging people’s ideals that they once thought to be true for America. Fewer people are trusting that they will receive a fair opportunity to earn something better, and they don’t know whom to blame. We are called to a higher ideal of what America is supposed to be, and sometimes we lose our way.
This is just a moment in history where we are trying to find our way back to the high ideals of our founding principles. It is never easy or clean, but it is a journey worth taking.