- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 20, 2011

Culture challenge of the week: The vanishing “good life”

As we head into Thanksgiving, life’s pretty rough for many Americans.

A Gallup survey shows that our national pessimism is at an all-time low, particularly on financial matters. Ninety percent of Americans say this is a tough time to get a job, and 70 percent rate their own financial situations as “fair” or “poor.” Even the price of a Thanksgiving dinner is up 13 percent over last year, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation.

Perhaps most troubling, our confidence about our children’s future has taken a serious dive.

Just three years ago, nearly two out of three Americans believed their children would enjoy lives better than their own. Now, less than half of us think our children can look forward to better lives. We don’t expect our children to climb the income ladder, and we worry that life for them will be even tougher than it is for us today.

Is the American dream vanishing?

Not if we respond with American spirit.

How to save your family: Cultivate the American spirit

Certainly part of the solution to our American “malaise” is political. A change in the presidency will reboot the economy and replace failed economic policies with pro-growth incentives and leadership. But that’s down the road.

What about today? What can we do to preserve the American dream in our own families and communities, even in the face of personal and societal challenges?

To hear the Wall Street Occupiers tell it, the solution is for others to do more. They whine, complain and demand. Sitting in tents, waiting to be fed, they entertain themselves with self-important conversations, sex, music and drugs. They can’t even keep the peace or wipe up their own messes. They expect the government to do it - funded by other people’s (taxpayers’) money.

That is not the American spirit that made this country great. Nor will it generate growth and prosperity.

Consider another group: our veterans. Even though nearly 1 in 5 return from Iraq or Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder or other traumatic injuries that hinder their return to work, they are not out trashing their country, bemoaning their fates or telling the government to do more.

Instead, they live the American spirit of gratitude, resilience and hard work.

One privately funded initiative - the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp for Veterans with Disabilities (EBV) - is a perfect example. It’s an innovative program that demonstrates the greatness of the American spirit. And it serves as a powerful reminder that, because of our freedoms - and the sacrifices of those who secure them - we can change lives for the better.

According to the EBV Foundation website, the program “offers cutting-edge, experiential training in entrepreneurship and small business management to post-9/11 veterans with disabilities resulting from their service to our country.” Veterans take online classes and attend an intensive short course (“boot camp”) that gives them new skills, mentors and technical support - all the help they need to create successful business plans and become entrepreneurs.

The graduates receive ongoing support as they set up their businesses and apply what they’ve learned. A parallel program offers identical training to family members who care for disabled veterans and for surviving spouses of veterans killed in service.

Begun as a single program at Syracuse University, seven universities now participate, helping veterans realize their dreams and regain their independence.

It’s a fantastic program that has been incredibly successful. Why? Because of the American spirit.

Randy Blass, a retired Air Force lieutenant colonel who directs Florida State’s EBV program said, “We don’t coddle. … We also don’t dwell. We don’t even really talk about their disabilities.”

Rather than being held back by what they don’t have, they make the best of what they do have.

“We talk about business,” Col. Blass said. “We are going forward. We are not looking backwards.”

These veterans are conscious of the good they can do for others - not through military bravery this time, but through job creation and their own contributions.

“Being an entrepreneur means that I have the ability to control my destiny, to make a difference in the world in my own way,” one veteran said. “The only limits that are set for me as an entrepreneur are those that I set for myself.”

It’s a lesson the pessimists and Occupiers would do well to learn.

This Thanksgiving, thank God for the blessing of freedom. And, even if you are financially less well off this year than last, consider making a gift to the EBV at EBVFoundation.org so those who have successfully defended your freedom can learn to succeed in the business world, too.

Rebecca Hagelin can be reached at rebecca@howtosave yourfamily.com.

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