As someone who moved to the United States at an impressionable adolescent age, I remember being told that the highest values held in America were personal independence, honesty, and a sense of work ethic.
This presented an interesting dichotomy for me, because the Asian country in which I had been raised had a different list: Family, loyalty, and “industriousness” (which is more like “being a good employee” than the American understanding which is much more like “pulling yourself up by your personal achievements”).
So you can imagine my intrigue when I read a recent article written by an American college student about "8 Lies We’re Told About the Real World", and found both the “honesty” and “work ethic” values being brought into question. (Specifically - Work Ethic is brought into question by “You should finish college”, not start, but finish; and “Success comes with hard work”. Honesty is brought into question with “Honesty is the best policy”.)
Cultures are not monolithic. They change and adapt over time. It appears American culture may be changing and adapting. This article isn’t the first thing that seems to suggest this as a reality. Listen to music, read an article, watch a move, observe a church, take a class on a college campus —- how often do you see personal freedom being expressed as a value? honesty? work ethic? If you do see them, you might see some evidence that their importance is waning.
So what are the new values? That’s a good question. I don’t think there’s enough evidence to absolutely define it yet - but I would say that things like “success” are rising to new heights, replacing working ethic. “Leisure” (which is essentially what we mean when we say “work-life balance”) is probably more of an American value than ever has been (this has been a notoriously European value). And “Personal Network” (which might have been termed “family” in the past but is less biologically connected now) is on the rise, at least in part due to the strange world of interpersonal communications that we have developed via internet technology. There are probably a few others in the running.
What do you think? Are we experiencing a cultural shift? Or are these more “exceptions that prove the rule”? If we are, what are the old values and what are the new values - and how does their exchange of placement in the list affect how we live our lives together as a culture?
Posted on Saturday, August 2nd 2014