[January 25, 2015] A few days ago, I was invited to have lunch with about a dozen good friends; all retired from the U.S. military. While eating our pastrami sandwiches and drinking cream soda, the inevitable comment came up about how many young people in the U.S. are so different from us. American core values have not had a more rigorous discussion.
Any discussion about American today will certainly bring up the important topic of “what-are-our-values” in the United States. It’s important because it helps us see where our country will be going in the future and thus how well our children will live their lives. Americans have always struggled to define themselves both as a part of and separate from our European origins. Yet today, an American is just a likely to have an ancestor from Africa or Asia.
We discussed the values of Americans and how they changed. We could not come to a consensus, not unlike any group of us randomly thrown together. Yet, the question remains relevant so here is my take on the subject. What are American core values?
- Liberty and Freedom. Although not easily defined but we can say that freedom means being free from unfair restrictions on our ability to pursue happiness through independence and self development. It also means freedom of religion and from the undue interference of government in our daily lives.
- Equality and Individualism. The belief that every person is special and unique is a central feature. There is the expectation of privacy, that we are all born equal, and have equal rights under the law. Therefore the status of each person is based on that individual’s ability to be successful without impediments from government. Therefore each person’s independence, personal responsibility and self-reliance are critical for Americans to thrive in society.
- Democracy. Recognized early by Alexis de Tocqueville, democracy in America was an attempt to balance liberty and equality. The basis of American beliefs is that we have respect for the law and the rights of others. Government, therefore, exists to prevent those who would take liberty and equality from us. Government should not impose undue and unfair laws upon us. In other words, it means the pursuit of happiness with minimal interference.
- Strength and Winning. Americans like a winner and they respect strength. They love sports because both of these values are at play. We are emotionally vested in our sports teams and love the game from our hearts more than from our heads. Likewise in politics and international affairs, we like a good competition with clear rules … and we love a winner and hate cheaters.
- Family. The family is at the center of all we do. Americans put tremendous faith in our families and we are fond of saying that “blood is thicker than water.” We owe an allegiance to our family members and pass laws that help protect it.
There are certainly many more values but this gives sense of where we are today. However, be warned that these core values are changing and that some of the change may not be for the good.
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