Thursday, March 17, 2011

Time for a different dream?

This is from the "Too soon old, too late smart" department.

The headline in my local newspaper says, "Gas Prices Eroding the American Dream."

High oil prices are just one of the threats to North American standards of living.

Food prices are headed up, too. Probably in a big way.

Then there's the matter of the median earnings of full-time Canadian workers increasing by just $53 annually between 1980 and 2005. In the U.S., median household income has actually declined since 1999, when adjusted for inflation.

Meanwhile, governments everywhere, and at all levels, are in deficit reduction mode, for good reasons. That means many of the programs we take for granted, the stuff that affects quality of life, are about to be put on a diet, or trashed completely. They include services we have come to regard as entitlements.

Look for big rollbacks in tax-funded healthcare, for example, as it sucks up an increasing, unsustainable share of provincial spending. That means you'll be paying more for it, despite politicians' promises about a "sacred trust."

More money going out, but no more coming in. It adds up to a major lifestyle adjustment for many, perhaps most, people.

The future isn't what it used to be.

Scary? You bet.

The American Dream, shared by Canadians, is based on the possibility, even the expectation, of prosperity and success.

In the five decades that followed Word War II, economic growth fuelled income growth, unbounded optimism, and creation of the social safety net. There was little thought about the possibility that the music might slow down, or even stop.

Sure the economy sometimes got a bit overheated, then cooled off, but generally the curves on the graphs went ever higher.

But, as a society, we can no longer afford the lifestyle to which we have become accustomed. Maybe those heady days will return, but it will take a while, as we work off the huge debts incurred to pay for the party we threw for ourselves.

Can we adjust? Could downsizing and simplifying our lives even have a positive side in the greater scheme of things? Might it offer an opportunity to get refocused on different priorities?

It'll be a hard sell. We're creatures of the consumer society, and we equate owning lots of stuff with status and wellbeing.

We let corporations construct our dreams, and then furnish those dreams with their wares.

We are, in the words of the famous quote, possessed by our possessions. We handed our keys to a bunch of marketing guys, and they convinced us that we were enjoying the trip.

Now, we're looking around, and it's not so good.

We've surrounded ourselves with high tech toys that deliver the illusion of pleasure, but contribute little to real fulfillment. We are tethered to our work by cellphones and eMail, even during our off-hours. We stare at TVs that mostly deliver time-wasting garbage, interrupted every few minutes by pitches for more products that promise to improve our lives. We live in big houses that consume too much scarce energy. We drive gas guzzling monster vehicles that contribute to climate change, and we bury tons of plastic packaging that will still be intact when dug up by archeologists in a few centuries. There's plenty more.

Maybe weaning ourselves off some of this will be a good thing.

Might it even mean more time for activities that give meaning to life, including time spent with our important people --- partners, kids, cousins, friends?

At the end of life, we will not assess its quality based on the number of material possessions amassed. We will think back on relationships, experiences, achievements, contributions.

Life is short. Time to create your own dream.

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