Life in Hills & Valleys

Just today I heard another story on the news about the increasing wealth gap in the United States.  I’m also reading about how people perceive the wealth gap, economic success, the American Dream, and related ideas.  Apparently, many people in this country believe that we must all take our turn with achieving financial success:  those who have worked hardest and longest get rewarded first, followed by those who still need to put in their time.  People who believe this way are enraged at what they see as line-breakers:  women and people of color being two groups of people often accused of breaking in line.

From personal experience, I can tell you women don’t always get preferential treatment. Many a female 12th grader was disappointed in my high school, as they applied to a particularly desirable university nearby.  That university was simply looking for more males to even out the gender ratio of the freshman class.  Also, when I got to college, I found that spots had been reserved for freshmen from underserved or rural areas (and most of the people living in those areas are white.)

One writer described the struggle to achieve of the American Dream as a trek uphill, waiting to get to the top.  At the top, people believe, one can find a home, cars, and a comfortable life.

Here’s my question:  how did we get to the point where we believe life is just a trip up one single hill?  Aren’t there multiple hills, and even mountains, in life?  And why do we feel as though we are in line to reach the top?

Let me be clear – there is such a thing as a good level of financial stability.  I am not romanticizing poverty and the inability to pay for basic expenses.  But why do we believe in just one version of stability or success?

Consider an older person or couple who could really use some help with household chores or meals.  They “made it” to the top in terms of owning a home, but now find there’s no cash to pay the wages of an in-home helper.  Perhaps adult children could move in, but that could mean those children quitting their own jobs.

More and more, I hear stories of people who have moved off-grid and created their own version of success.  They garden, hunt, fish, and/or farm.  They build their own house.  They rarely venture into town.  To me, these are people who skipped the line entirely and made their own version of the American Dream.

I think if we were to just look around, we would find some fertile ground wherever we are.  In fact, most of the time, fertile ground is found not on mountaintops but in valleys. We could do more as a society in terms of making the valley a better place to live.  Yet each of us needs to decide where we want to be.  If we really want to climb the big hill, so be it.  But there are other good places to be as well.

View from the hilltop on an old farm, now a park

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