This little saying was printed on a plaque displayed in my grandmother’s house her whole life. At least as much of her life as I knew. It was a powerful statement, mainly because she actually lived it. These kinds of mottos were common encouragements, spurs to do good and a striving to do better, which were popular in the early twentieth century. My grandmother was a woman of this time, an entrepreneur, a volunteer, a woman active in civic organizations, a zealous, responsible housewife, a stalwart friend. She shunned gossip, always trying to look for the best, the positive in things in people and events. Pushing for achievement. A modern woman. From her I got the big idea,”Don’t be going around pulling others down!”
The motto above is attributed to a man named James Truslow Adams, an American businessman and free lance writer especially active in the 1930’s. He was first a banker, then moved into a new career writing magazine articles, essays, and commentaries on American history. It was Adams who coined the phrase we are still focused on today…”The American Dream”… and who also wrote about this idea in his book,”Epic of America.”
Adams described the American Dream this way:
“The American Dream is that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.”
It is clear that Adams thought the “American Dream” meant a freeing from Old World judgments and class-race distinctions. So, the idea is, you don’t need to be holding people down, classifying them or disdaining them, if you want this place to be a great nation, a nation which fulfills it original promise and God-given place in the world. Just get on with your own doing and your own goals.
I like it. It seems American to me. It seems right.