From an early age, most parents tell their children that they have to focus and work hard in order to pursue their dreams. If they give all they have and put every effort in, everything is possible. The American dream teaches that we can make it from rags to riches and from dishwashers to millionaires. Equal opportunities for everyone is a great concept, if only it was real.
In the real world egalitarianism doesn’t live up to its promises and different people have different prospects in life. Many factors beyond our control strongly influence our lives and determine the possibilities we have. Examples of these include family background and physical appearance. Someone from a rich and popular family will obviously have it easier than a second-generation immigrant.
Employers are more likely to hire attractive people whereas a person who might not be considered beautiful will be rejected faster. Interestingly, this type of discrimination affects women far more than men. Even though the uneven distribution of opportunity is omnipresent and evident in research examining job prospects or hiring patterns, people keep promoting the construct of the American dream and the ideology of egalitarianism. Most of them have good intentions and truly believe that humanity can progress to the point where all differences disappear and humans are equal, but it is time for them to become aware of the consequences of the ideology they are spreading.
Imagine a young girl who just finished high school and is thinking about her future life. She wants to become successful and do something meaningful. Apart from that, she also hopes to make lots of money and grow to be a respected and well-known woman. She is slightly overweight and her nose stands out further than usual but she is ambitious and hardworking and convinced that she can make it if she tries hard enough. After some consideration she decides to study business and become a marketing manager once she is done. Even though she is doing well and putting much effort in, she struggles to find a job after graduation and ends up working in a clothing store to pay her bills until she finds something better. This imaginary girl is not the only one for whom the dream didn’t come true. Even though she achieved high grades, she has to compete with other graduates who are more attractive than her or related to the head of a multinational company. If one believes in the American dream and listens to her story, they must ultimately conclude that she failed because she didn’t work hard enough.
Telling all people that they are inherently equal declares any failure to be the individual’s mistake. The person who struggles and can’t find a job becomes responsible for their failure. Obviously, this is true for the lazy ones who just drift through their lives, but what about those who put in everything they have but still don’t succeed? Having grown up with belief in the American dream, most of those people who just happen to be unlucky or belong to a disadvantaged group blame themselves for their failure. They become frustrated and unhappy with their lives, thinking themselves responsible for something that is in fact mostly out of their hands.
In order to prevent people from falling hard once they become disillusioned, I consider it important to give everyone realistic expectations about their opportunities. Motivating people to work for their dreams is great and useful but not when taken to an extreme which ignores the influence of discrimination and other factors on peoples’ life prospects. Not everything is accessible to everyone, and people are not only judged on their diligence but on characteristics which they can’t influence or change. If people realize that, they can work hard to become the best version of themselves and take the best role available to them in society. It is only possible to improve the situation after we accept it and admit that egalitarianism doesn’t keep its promises.