The American Spirit

“Go West young man”. These simple words were spoken over one hundred and fifty years ago, because to go west meant the promise of an exponentially better chance of prosperity for the pioneers in a country that had not even scratched the surface of its potential. There were no guarantees, just opportunity, and the challenge was accepted by many. The hardships encountered by the people making this trek is unimaginable by today’s standards, yet year after year many uprooted there households to make the trip. Each family was responsible for themselves and during the journey neighbor looked out for neighbor. There was no government or any type of public handout for the people who decided to make this trip. This never discouraged them though, in fact; it was never even a consideration. One common denominator among them was they were all imbued with a spirit of optimism, a strong faith, and a can do attitude that suggested they could accomplish anything.

To give an idea of how difficult the journey was, here is a quote from one man during that era “To enjoy such a trip … a man must be able to endure heat like a Salamander, mud and water like a muskrat, dust like a toad, and labor like a jackass. He must learn to eat with his unwashed fingers, drink out of the same vessel as his mules, sleep on the ground when it rains, and share his blanket with vermin, and have patience with musketoes … he must cease to think, except of where he may find grass and water and a good camping place. It is hardship without glory.” On top of all of this they had to battle sickness and disease during a time when the study of medicine was still (by today’s standards) primitive. Many of the trips were made without people who even possessed the medical expertise of that time. They had to combat diseases like small pox, cholera and tuberculosis to name just a few, many died and had to be buried along the way. Other perils that they faced included scarcity of food, harsh weather, crossing rivers, and other numerous challenges. In spite of all this they persevered and blazed a trail that others would follow. Upon reaching their destination the work did not stop for them. They then had to face the task of establishing and making lives for themselves in the new territory.  They faced everything with a clear understanding that to be successful required hard work that they were willing to do.

In today’s America I hear that many young people are jaded, discouraged and believe that the American dream is dead, and I wonder how this is even possible. With so many amenities readymade and available to them they complain about how difficult life is. Many of them have been catered to their entire lives and have never known what it is to face an iota of the difficulties that their counterparts from the aforementioned period of American history had to face. They live in a world of gadgets that make so many things possible. Never before in the history of the world has the globe been more linked. Cell phones make it possible for two people to talk at a minimal cost from opposite corners of the world. Trips across the country and around that would have literally taken months can now be done in just a few short hours at unbelievably low cost, yet people complain about the lack of opportunities that they face. It may be axiomatic to say that they do not understand how good they have it. They do not have to even battle so many of the diseases that the pioneers faced, not simply because the medicine is vastly improved, but modern medicine has managed to eradicate some of these diseases. There is free education, libraries, job training programs in addition to all types of public assistance worth tens of billions of dollars every year. People today have so many ways to amuse themselves. There are movies plays, games, sporting events, museums, restaurant and the list goes on. It is hard to imagine how in the midst of all this prosperity so many can believe that the American dream is dead.

I suspect that what is missing in the discouraged generation is the can do attitude of old, the eternal optimism, the faith in God and the rugged individualism that was the foundation of an earlier time. People had to provide for themselves and they knew that if they did not do it, no one would do it. This spurred them to action and they accomplished great things. Today we must drive it into the minds of young people that opportunities still abound and that “the sky is still the limit” if they are only willing to open their eyes to see what is possible. The have to be willing to take risks in order to accomplish the impossible. They must believe in themselves and grab on to the many different ways that are available to get themselves out of debt, find meaningful and lead the type of life that they desire. We have made it through many difficult periods in this country’s history, from the country’s founding, through slavery to the civil war, reconstruction, Jim Crow, World War One, the great depression, world war two, Vietnam, the civil rights movement etc. all the way up to today’s challenges. The one constant throughout all of these leading up to today is that we overcame them all. We can do the same against the difficulties that we face today, in fact; we are more apt to do so than in any other time of our history.

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