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“David Brooks: The American Dream is Changing” or Bigger isn’t always better

September 8, 2010

In the last couple of months as I have listened to the pundits decry that this generation is not doing as well as their parents, I have felt what David Brooks said so well in his column this past week.

Perhaps they in many cases are doing better, but they are not measuring their lives and their success in the same way. When I was a kid, if you had told someone that there would be this thing called the internet, it would have gotten incredulous stares, as being something of science fiction. But the future is here now.

Microwaves, multiple screens and access point to information, in every household. In many ways today’s poor are better off than yesterday’s middle class. People, in part because of the economy and the green revolution are living and choosing differently. In some cases the young adults of today – having lived through the divorce, workaholism and bad choices of their parents are making different I’d dare say “better” choices. Their houses and incomes may be smaller, but in many ways their lives are richer.  In many cases they are opting out of the long hours and driven-ness of their parents generations. Whatever happened to the generation who would have a four day weekend because computers and robots would be doing our work for us?  It is in some ways now not only possible, but a coming reality if  the culture begins to change lifestyle habits.

Brooks says …

“Maybe the first decade of the 21st century will come to be known as the great age of headroom. During those years, new houses had great rooms with 20-foot ceilings and entire new art forms had to be invented to fill the acres of empty overhead wall space. People bought bulbous vehicles like Hummers and Suburbans. The rule was, The Smaller the Woman, the Bigger the Car — so you would see a 90-pound lady in tennis whites driving a 4-ton truck with enough headroom to allow her to drive with her doubles partner perched atop her shoulders.

When future archeologists dig up the remains of that epoch, they will likely conclude that sometime around 1996, the U.S. was afflicted by a plague of claustrophobia and drove itself bankrupt in search of relief. But that economy went poof, and social norms have since changed. The oversized now looks slightly ridiculous. Values have changed as well.

Today, savings rates are climbing and smart advertisers emphasize small-town restraint and respectability. The Tea Party movement is militantly bourgeois. It uses Abbie Hoffman means to get back to Norman Rockwell ends. In the coming years of slow growth, people are bound to establish new norms and seek noneconomic ways to find meaning.”

This brings up a great question for all of us. Why is it that you work. Is it for more and better toys, a lifestyle of leisure, life and job security, power, passion or something else. In the end even the best of motives, if they are not tempered by faith will let us down and lead us astray. It is only in finding meaning outside of ourselves, from above in the Creator’s purpose, design and direction that ultimately we can work or even live for the long haul.

We need to be tempered by faith because we are bent people, and the rising generation should serve us as prophets about our sin and proclivity towards serving the wrong masters.  For more on the meaning and motivation behind work consider reading “Professionals: Men and Women Partnering with the Trinity in Everyday Life.”

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