On American Core Values

From time to time I work as a contractor for a firm that corporations use to help acclimate foreign nationals who move to the United States as part of their work. My role is to lead these new arrivals through an overview of American history, culture, and politics, and over the years this has been a fascinating opportunity to meet and talk with people from around the world.

I recently added a component to my presentation that I call "American Core Values." I see this as a way to try and explain what it is that most Americans embrace as part of their American-ness: concepts most of share and beliefs most of us hold. Of course, each of these values is open to rather wide interpretation, but if you ask any American on the street about these terms, chances are that person will agree with these as core values. Unfortunately, when I surfed the Internet a bit to look for ideas, most of the sites I came across were highly political, like this site that lured me in with the phrase "American Core Values" that instead focused on perceived attacks on American core values without spending much time trying to define American core values.

I came up with the following list of values and how I describe them:

  • Individual freedom
  • - I think most Americans hold as a core value the idea that individual freedom should be protected and that the government should not have much involvement in individual decisions.
  • Privacy
  • - Most Americans share some concern about the perceived erosion of their privacy, and most would agree with the idea that government has little business in the private lives of its citizens.
  • Importance of family
  • The American nuclear family might not be viewed with the same cultural admiration as it might have in earlier decades, but I think most Americans believe that family is more important than all or most other aspects of their lives.
  • Freedom of religious faith
  • - Though Americans have not always been tolerant of different faith traditions, I think most Americans believe that freedom of religion is an important American value.
  • Patriotism
  • - It is the rare American indeed who is not moved by symbols like the American flag, the Statue of Liberty, or the Declaration of Independence. Politicians from all American political parties know the power of the colors red, white, and blue, and marketers also use patriotic imagery because most Americans instinctively react in a positive fashion to patriotic themes.
  • Achievement and success
  • - I think most Americans possess some level of desire for material success and evidence of achievement. Diplomas, awards, titles, and promotions are often the "proof" of our personal and professional successes, and as a people we tend to be quite fixated on exterior identifiers that demonstrate such successes.
  • Equality
  • - While we might disagree on the forms or means by which equality takes place, most Americans cherish the idea that all people are inherently equal, and that everyone should have the opportunity to achieve their goals.
  • Hard work
  • - Admittedly not all Americans toil at the same level of intensity, and some of us are downright lazy, but I suspect that most Americans embrace the idea that hard work is an important quality to possess, and that Americans are a hardworking people who can accomplish anything if they are motivated.

I am desirous to learn what other core American values readers think should be on the list, as well as any modifications in the general description. Please use the Comments section to offer thoughts about or critiques of this list. Thanks in advance for any suggestions for other core American values about which you think foreign nationals should be cognizant.