A friend recently sent me some e-mails talking about American Values. I found them very interesting. She was researching an article or something and had been looking for a review of commonly held values. Think of these not necessarily as individual values, but rather as collective values.
The first list comes from this site, a guide for international students…
- Achievement & Hard Work/Play
- Direct & Assertive
- Looking to the Future and to Change
It’s an interesting list, this one, Many of the items that are on it, I would have included. Some I likely wouldn’t have and there are some I see as missing.
The second list comes from this site which is a medical resource for international patients.
- Individual Freedom
- Choice in Education
- The Family
Again, I find the second list interesting based on what it includes and what it leaves off.
Finally, I found this list on a site which was posted by a professor at Claremont McKenna College’s and reflects thoughts on the topic of American Values from the Washington International Center.
- Personal Control over the Environment
- Time & Its Control
- Future Orientation
- Action/Work Orientation
- Practicality/Efficiency and Materialism/Acquisitiveness
It’s funny to me that the last one, which has a very interesting descriptive explanation for each item as well as for why and how they came up with these, talks about the fact that Americans think of themselves as more unique than they actually are. I think this is exceptionally true. We are more alike than we realize and admit. Clearly since many people can do work on the same topic and come up with very similar results, they have found many commonly held values. I’d like to give my two cents n soe of these items as well, because I do find it interesting to view them in the context of living within a different society.
In at least one of its forms, this item appears on all three lists. I think that pretty much every American would agree that this is a closely held value. We do think of ourselves as individuals. We’ve founded entire educational systems on “making the most” of your opportunities and offering unparalleled choice. We ask students starting as young as junior high school to make judgement decisions on what courses to take. We have a strong system of “electives” in every school I’ve ever seen. We also ask students to express an opinion on topics (including the accurateness of essays by experts). In fact, it isn’t just asked for, it’s expected. We seriously value being an individual. Privacy is, in its way, an offshoot of this. It’s a hard adjustment to make coming to Jordan. Both of these American values are not, in fact, values here. Jordan is rather all about the community. it is valued to fall within community norms. This is typical around much of the world, but an odd frame of reference to Americans. After all, for us the guy with purple hair is cool, not embarrassing. And privacy… well, that’s definitely a tough one. The idea that people think you must be lonely if you’re alone is a tough nut to crack. I like to read… quietly… alone. When El 3atal travels, I highly value the fact that I can watch whatever I want on TV… alone. I’m not lonely. I’m pleased to have some quiet time. Now if he’s gone to long… that’s a different story. But most Americans find the almost intrusiveness of Arab families into their lives a bit stifling and overwhelming.
Choice (or Control Over the Environment)
This is another big one for Americans. We are huge on choice. I mentioned above choice in education. But, that’s just where we teach people to value choice. We value choice in all walks of life. As an American, I’m a little horrified to hear friends talking about how their oldest son is going to be a Doctor. I can’t imagine raising a child with no choice on what they want to do with their life. After all, what if they hate blood? What if they are terrible with people? What if their passion is computer games? I know I don’t want THAT guy to be my Doctor (really and I’ve been to see him here in Jordan). We think that choice is what it’s all about. You should be able to control your own destiny. I will admit to also being horrified at raising a daughter who thinks she has to depend on a man. While I hope both my Beanlettes will find wonderful God-loving men and marry them, I expect that they will be able to support themselves. Marriage isn’t the only option, it is one option. And it isn’t the end, but rather a very rewarding part of the journey. I couldn’t raise a daughter who thought that she had to marry to live. I’d feel like a failure.
This would be another one that pretty much every American would list as a value, I think. It’s one that has been, on some ways, the hardest to get a grip on and agree on how to ensure. Fundamentally, though, we believe that men and women are equal, the rainbow of colors are equal, we are all immigrants and all equal. These days there are some who find this one harder to grasp (like all religions have somehow become unequal), but even so, it’s a strongly held value.
Direct and Assertive
This one showed up in two of the three articles as well. This isn’t by chance or coincidence. When I read notes that come home from school (mind you this is me trying to understand enough of the Arabic to “get the gist”), I’ve learned that the first paragraph is always fluff. I just ignore it because it is literally of no value to me. Americans are direct and to-the-point. In many cultures, we come off as downright rude. I get that. Another example is answering the phone. When I answer the phone, I don’t want to chit-chat or make small talk. I want to know what you want so I can get back to my day. This is definitely a cultural difference and can cause hurt feelings if not managed properly on both ends ;). Poor TetaBean is the biggest recipient of this one. I love talking to people, just not on the phone really. So, just call me rude, I’ll own it ;). But, I’m also awfully direct and assertive in general. I don’t believe in soft-pedaling. At one of the large American multi-nationals I worked with, they even had a corporate managerial for “straight-talk”. That’s code for saying it directly, not hemming, hawing, and talking around issues. That’s us, the land of straight-talk…
Those are the three I felt in me to talk about today. What do you think? Do you see any missing? If you were going to create a similar list for Jordan, what would the values be? Any ideas?