University News

Veritas Forum talk explores meaning of American dream

Panelists urge audience members to reconsider motivations behind their personal goals

By
Staff Writer
Thursday, February 11, 2016

Andrew Foster, Seth Rockman and Charles Lee discussed questions of faith and morality and their intersection with the American dream.

The Veritas Forum hosted a discussion-based event, titled “The American Dream?,” about morality, faith and the meaning of life in the Salomon Center De Ciccio Family Auditorium Wednesday night.

Andrew Foster, professor of economics and director of population studies, asked questions and facilitated conversation between Seth Rockman, associate professor of history, and Charles Lee, professor of management at the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

The conversation revolved around the meaning of success. Lee encouraged the audience to reconsider what success really means and whether or not it is a worthwhile objective. “Success is the attainment of a goal. The real issue is how good your goal is.” He continued to describe his own journey toward faith, growing up in a mainly secular household and finding Christianity at the age of 24. The discovery of religion “made a huge difference in every part of my life,” Lee said.

Upon arrival, audience members were encouraged to fill out a short survey, on which they were asked to put information regarding their role on campus, childhood religious background and current beliefs. After the lecture finished, the participants were encouraged to answer another set of questions, such as “Did tonight’s Veritas Forum inspire you to live or think differently in any way?” and “What is your biggest takeaway?”

Foster moved the discussion forward by asking several questions about the American dream, including “Who does it benefit?” and “What does it reveal?”

Rockman briefly defined the concept as “a belief that your children will do better than you,” which is firmly embedded in the American experience. Using his own family history as an example, Rockman explained that“it is a uniquely American belief that there will be more prosperity tomorrow.”

The panelists focused on the importance of inequality and “collective” success, rather than on individual achievements. “It is important to invest in the success of the people around you,” Lee said. “We have to wrestle with what good means in order to find happiness.” 

He urged the audience to look beyond societal definitions of happiness and success by asking provoking questions. “Why is your self-worth so dependent on external factors?” he asked. “You are not your resume, and you are not how much money you make.”

Students were inspired by real-life applications of the values discussed during the event. “A lot of the questions were about the intersection of faith and social justice, and the discussion really encouraged the audience to think about the ‘why’ behind our goals and actions,” said Gianna Uson ’18.

Rockman concluded the lecture by emphasizing the timeless nature of these issues. “The struggle between spiritual and material fulfillment is incredibly old, and it is one of the most robust conversations in the Western world,” he said. “We are in the midst of an ongoing conversation.”

The lecture provoked meaningful, albeit diverse, reactions from the audience. Shirin Chen ’18 said the lecture was “really compelling, and the topic was relevant to students at Brown and at colleges everywhere.” The conversation was also “very accessible” to this age group, Chen added.

Others were curious about the connection between faith and morals. Nate Umnanhowar ’19 found himself asking, “Is there a possibility that the religious principles that Lee spoke of could stand on their own” without a religious framework?

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