There is a type of parent out there. Career-wise, they are killing it. They have a good marriage to an income-earning spouse and together they make good money. They live in a great neighborhood in an awesome house. They have good educations. They have smart kids. They go on nice vacations.
And yet, they are constantly worried. Worried about money. About whether their kids will get into the right school and get the right jobs. About their taxes. About keeping up with the Joneses. About so many things.
Everything looks great on the outside—and by any objective measure, it is actually great—but they are somehow still angry or anxious on the inside. Sure, there is a lot wrong in the world, and you never know when it could all go away (natural disaster, medical emergency, legal troubles, etc), but at the same time you’d think with how hard they work and all the things that have gone right, that life would at least feel a little easier. That they’d be comfortable. Maybe even…happy?
Not so much. Instead, these parents respond to their inner turmoil by trying to exert even greater control over their external environment. Does this dissonance sound familiar? Maybe because you know these people. Perhaps there is a part of you that is these people. But do you know the term that sociologists and political observers have created for them? It’s not a particularly nice one: They’re called dream hoarders.
Dream hoarders are the people who, in an attempt to soothe their own anxieties by securing their station in life and smoothing the path for their children, do things to control the world around them that have the effect of limiting opportunity and mobility for those “beneath them.” Dream hoarders are the NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) who oppose the creation of more housing (because it would ruin the character of their neighborhood). They oppose school vouchers and magnet schools from the comfort and safety of their children’s private schools. They favor legacy admissions standards to colleges over any kind of assistive programs that give the poor and underprivileged a boost. These are the people who complain about taxes directed at funding initiatives to help the greater good…despite being in the 1% or better. These people are immune from most of the real crises that are ravaging their country and the world, and instead turn their own piddly problems into World War III at school board and city planning meetings all across America. They have gotten what’s theirs, and their anxiety about being able to keep it forever has blinded them to the reality that so many others are barely getting by.
Look, it would be ridiculous to criticize anyone for wanting to pass only advantages and privileges to your kids. That is, of course, the entire point of evolution. That’s why you have worked as hard as you have to get ahead, to build up the life you want. But we have to remember that our kids aren’t going to live in a bubble. They are going to have to make their way in the world—a world that the dream hoarders are increasingly turning into a battlefield of Rich vs. Poor, Us vs. Them. If we want our kids to enjoy the bounty we have worked so hard to give them, if we want them to take advantage of those opportunities in ways that make us proud and make them proud of themselves, then we can’t just think about our kids anymore.
We have to think about “the children”—as in the neighborhood’s and the city’s and the country’s young people. We can’t hoard from them. We have to share. We have to pass along to others some of the magic dust that was sprinkled over us for reasons that, whether we want to believe it or not, had nothing to do with us.
Others need it more than we do. And make no mistake, the world needs more of it too.