American Values Today

The greatest thing about America has always been the idea of America. Our country was built upon the ideas of the Age Of Enlightenment and values that were valued then are still valued today: liberty, equality, individuality, enlightened self-interest. These are some of our core values.

The tensions between our values create cycles of change—at times we value the individual over the community, at others we unite in the common interest. Times of crisis, especially, force us to reassess and reevaluate our values. We are living through one of those times. Our values are changing. Today we value:

Liberty, equality, and individuality. These have not changed but we are recognizing with shame and clarity that our country has not distributed liberty equally nor have we valued all individuals equally. We are recognizing that, if our ideas of liberty and equality do not apply equally to all individuals, then that inequality not only impinges the liberty of those people, it makes hypocrites of us and acts against our collective interest.

Enlightened self-interest. There are some people who view our planet and our fellow humans as resources to be exploited for their own benefit. There are other people who view our planet and our fellow humans as things we can nourish and serve and who recognize that, when we do, we in turn are nourished and served by them. Self-interest is enlightened when it recognizes that the benefits both to the individual and to society are greater when the individual’s interests align with society’s. We need no more Martin Shkrelis, no more Donald Trumps, no more Harvey Weinsteins, no more Bob Murrays, no more John Kapoors.

Integrity. Honesty. Transparency. These three form a virtuous circle, a positive feedback loop. In this age of “fake news” and mass misinformation we need much more of all three.

Intelligence. It’s no longer cool to be stupid.

Sincerity. It’s no longer cool to be snide, snarky, condescending.

Positivity and optimism. Because complaining is only useful to the extent that it highlights things we can improve.

Personal responsibility. Because nobody will take care of us better than we will.

Community and the common good. Because when we treat each other the way we want to be treated we create the communities we want to live in.

Activity and involvement. Because we are our community.

Diversity. Because a diverse community, when it is healthy, is more robust, more lively, more informed, more respectful, more humane.

Justice and fairness. Because when one person gets away with murder or rape or theft or whatever we all lose faith in our social system. Without trust our democracy dissolves.

Sustainability. Because we’re not leaving this planet any time soon. We’re here to stay.

We cannot effectively move ahead unless we have a vision of where we want to go and a plan for how to get there. And we cannot plan effectively without a set of values and ideals to guide us. These are some of our values today.

America has never lived up to its ideals. But we also value persistence.