HEIST Who Stole the American Dream? and How We Can Get It Back

Heist movie

“Cynicism is a form of resistance, a walling off of the possibilities for transformation. At its core, it is a response to learned helplessness, a defensive strategy. Scratch every cynic and underneath you find a wounded idealist. For therapists and writers alike, the best treatment for cynicism is healing stories.” – Mary Pipher PhD (author and therapist), Writing to Change the World

As Americans, we value independence. We celebrate independence as our national holiday. Yet, in today’s global economy and as a result of forces and trends that the movie “Heist: Who Stole the American Dream” (https://youtu.be/IcBuBgz6RAY) explains so well, many of us have been losing our independence. It turns out that what I have felt during my life experience has, in fact, been real and true — education and hard work do not necessarily guarantee financial security. And, it does not matter what profession you choose. The only guarantee in life is change.

After a period of significant growth that gave the middle class jobs, homes, cars, weekends, vacations and more, in 1977, the US economy began to shrink. Since then, many families have had to depend on credit to make ends meet. Until the housing market collapsed, many relied on growing equity in their homes to bail themselves out of credit card debt only to re-start the cycle of using credit again to make ends meet. More children have had parents who were filing for bankruptcy than were filing for divorce, reported then Harvard Professor Elizabeth Warren in her June 2007 lecture at the University of California-Berkeley, “The Coming Collapse of the Middle Class” (http://youtu.be/akVL7QY0S8A). Since the 2008 recession, for many, home equity to tap into disappeared. Between 2007 and 2010, the median American family lost 40% of its net worth. The sad reality is that many hard-working middle class families have become the new poor.

Disruptive technologies also have eliminated jobs. Globalization and disruptive technologies have resulted in jobs lost in both blue and white collar professions.

Resilience is about adapting to change. And this has been a big change.

These realities have resulted in dramatic changes in our lives that have required us to adapt. Resiliency strategies help us during challenging times by helping us to learn how to adapt, by encouraging cooperation, by holding onto high expectations of ourselves and others. They remind us to make the relationships we have with our families, friends and colleagues a priority because we take shelter in those relationships. They teach us that we need to embrace lifelong learning so we can gain new knowledge and skills to create new opportunities for ourselves.

To be resilient, I have needed to find my voice and support others as they find theirs. I have listened attentively to many who have found their voices and shared them through their books, films, plays, art, blogs, music, interviews and social media. And, I have listened attentively to those who have the wisdom of experience. From them — people who have lived through challenging times — I have learned about how to solve problems and how to cope. Listening to their courageous voices of struggle has been inspiring. And it has taught me pragmatic lessons.

Substantive journalism serves a key function in our democracy. “Heist” is substantive journalism. An illustration from another time, another crisis, was written in 1987 by Randy Shilts — his unflinchingly honest book, And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic — captured how, for so many years, most of the world ignored the AIDS epidemic. “Heist,” makes a similar contribution about the economic crisis we face today. It captures how most of us have been so busy working more hours while making less money and watching mind-numbing television or otherwise drowning in the “white noise” of marketing, branding and messaging that dominates most of today’s media to be able to see, understand and effectively respond to a financial crisis that has been strategically and successfully unfolding over the last 40 years.

What worries me most is our silence. Americans feel more comfortable talking about sex than money. Today’s American Puritanism is our impressive work ethic combined with an underlying shame that makes talking about money practically taboo in our society. It keeps us too busily running the rat race to have time to think about what’s happening. And, it keeps us silent so that we don’t tell our stories about how we’re struggling to keep our heads above water or, worse, that we need help to prevent from going under.

This blog is what I need to do to be resilient and to help others be resilient as well. If I am fortunate enough to have readers, I hope my voice will be read and heard in concert with the voices of others who can provide validation, encouragement, information, guidance and support to help us all be resilient during these challenging times.

“Change occurs when deeply felt private experiences are given public legitimacy.” – Gandhi