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Most Americans would have à difficult time telling you, specifically, values which Americans live by. They have never given the matter any thought.
I'd like to give you à list of common values, which would fit most Americans. The list of typically American values would stand in sharp contrast to the values of people in many other countries.
If a foreign visitor really understood how deeply ingrained these 13 values are in Americans, he or she would then be able to understand 95% of Americans actions actions which might otherwise appear strange, confusing, or unbelievable when evaluated from the perspective of the foreigner's own society and its values.
1. Personal Control over the Environment
Americans nî longer believe in the power of Fate, and they have come to look at people who do as being backward, primitive, or hopelessly naive. To be called "fatalistic" is one of the worst criticisms one can receive in the American context; to an American, it means one is superstitious and lazy, unwilling to take any initiative in bringing about improvements. In the United States people consider that Man should control Nature, rather than the other way around. More specifically, people believe every single individual should have control over whatever in the environment might potentially affect him or her. The problems of one's life are not seen as having resulted from bad luck as much as having come from one's laziness in pursuing à better life. Furthermore, it is considered normal that anyone should look out for his or her own self-interests first and foremost.
In the American mind change is linked to development, improvement, progress, and growth. Many older, more traditional cultures consider change as à disruptive, destructive force, to be avoided if at all possible. Instead of change, such societies value stability, continuity, tradition, and à rich and ancient heritage none of which are valued very much in the United States.
3. Time and Its Control
Time is, for the average American, of utmost importance. To the foreign visitor,
Americans seem to be more concerned with getting things accomplished on time.
Schedules for the American are meant to be planned and then followed in the smallest detail. Americans' language is filled with references to time, giving à clear indication of how much it is valued. Time is something to be "în," to be "kept," "filled," "saved," "used," "spent," "wasted," "lost," "gained," "planned," "given," "made the most of," even.
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enjoyed at à later time. (This latter concept is called "delayed gratification ").
Proverbs: time to kill, time is money, time is of the essence, time flies.
Equality for Americans is one of their most cherished values. This concept is sî important for Americans that they have even given it à religious basis. They say all people have been "created equal." Most Americans believe that God views all humans alike without regard to intelligence, physical condition or economic status. In secular terms this belief is translated into the assertion that all people have an equal opportunity to succeed in life.
5. Individualism and Privacy
The individualism, which has been developed in the Western world since the Renaissance, beginning in the late 15th century, has taken its most exaggerated form in 20th century United States. Here, each individual is seen as completely and marvelously unique, that is, totally different from all other individuals ànd, therefore, particularly precious and wonderful. Americans resist being thought of as representatives of à homogeneous group, whatever the group. They may, and do, join groups in fact many groups but somehow they're just à little different, just à little unique, just à little special, from other members of the same group. And they tend to leave groups as easily as they enter them.
Privacy, the ultimate result of individualism is perhaps even more difficult for the foreigner to comprehend. In the United States, privacy is viewed as à requirement, which all humans would find equally necessary, desirable and satisfying. It is not uncommon for Americans to say: "If E don' t have at least half an hour à day to myself, I will go stark raving mad!"
Individualism, as it exists in the United States, does mean that you will find à much greater variety of opinions (along' with the absolute freedom to express them .Yet, in spite of this wide range of personal opinion, almost all Americans will ultimately vote for one of the two major political parties. That is what was meant by the statement made earlier that Americans take pride in crediting themselves with claiming more individualism than, in fact, they really have.
6. Self-Íålp Concept
In the United States, à person can take credit only for what he or she has accomplished by himself or herse1f. Americans get no credit for having been born into à rich family. In the United States, that wou1d be considered "an accident of birth." Americans pride themselves in having climbed the difficult ladder of success to whatever level they have achieved all by themselves. The American social system has made it possible for Americans to move, relatively easily, up the social ladder.
Take à look in an English-language dictionary at the composite words that have the word "self" as à prefix. In the average desk dictionary, there will be more than 100 such words, words like self-confidence, self-conscious, self-contented, self-control, self-criticism, self-deception, self-defeating, self-denial, self-discipline, self-esteem, self-expression, self-importance, self-improvement, self-interest, self-respect, self-restraint, self-sacrifice the list goes on and on. The equivalent of these words cannot be found in most other languages. The "self-made man or woman" is still very much the ideal in 20th-century America.
7. Competition and Free Enterprise
Americans believe that competition brings out the best in any individual. They assert that it challenges or forces each person to produce the very best that is humanly possible. You may find the competitive value disagreeable, especially if you come from à society, which promotes cooperation rather than competition.
Americans, valuing competition, have devised an economic system to go with it free enterprise. Americans feel very strongly that à highly competitive economy will bring out the best in its people and ultimately, that the society which fosters competition will progress most rapidly.
8. Future Orientation
Valuing the future and the improvements Americans are sure the future will bring means that they devalue the past and are, " to à large extent, unconscious of the present. Even à happy present goes largely unnoticed because, happy as it may be, Americans have traditionally been hopeful that the future would bring even greater happiness. Almost all energy is directed toward realizing that better future. At best, the present condition is seen as preparatory to à later and greater event, which will eventually culminate in something even more worthwhile.
9. Action/Work Orientation
"Don't just stand there," goes à typical bit of American advice, "do something" This expression is normally used in à crisis situation, yet, in à sense, it describes most Americans' entire working life, where action any action is seen to be superior to inaction.
Americans routinely plan and, schedule an extremely active day. Any relaxation must be limited in time, pre-planned, and aimed at "recreating" their ability to work harder and more productively once the recreation is over. Americans believe 1eisure activities should assume à relatively small portion of one's total life. People think that it is "sinful" to "waste one's time," "to sit around doing nothing," or just to "daydream." The workaholic syndrome, in turn, causes Americans to identify themselves wholly with their professions. The first question one American wi1l ask another American when meeting for the first time is related to his or her work "What do you do?" "Where do you work?" And when such à person goes on vacation, even the vacation will be carefully planned, very busy and active.
If you come from à more formal society, you will likely find Americans to be extremely informal and, you will probably feel, even disrespectful of those in authority. Americans are one of the most informal and casual groups of people in the world. As one example of this informality, American bosses often urge their employees to call them by their first names and even feel uncomfortable if they are called bó the title "Ìã." or "Mrs."
Dress is another area where American informality will be most noticeable, perhaps even shocking. 0ne can go to à symphony performance, for example, in any large American city nowadays and find some people in the audience dressed in blue jeans and tieless, short-sleeved shirts.
11. Directness, Openness and Honesty
Many other countries have developed subtle, sometimes highly ritualistic ways of informing other people of unpleasant information. Americans, however, have always preferred the direct approach. They are likely to be completely honest in delivering their negative evaluations. If you come from à society, which uses the indirect manner of conveying bad news or uncomplimentary evaluations, you will be shocked at Americans' bluntness. Americans are trying to urge their fellow countrymen to become even more open and direct. The large number of "assertiveness" training courses, which appeared in the United States in the late 1970's, reflects such à commitment. Americans consider anything other than the most direct and open approach to be dishonest and insincere and will quickly lose confidence in and distrust for anyone who hints at what is intended rather than saying it outright. Anyone who, in the United States, chooses to use an intermediary to deliver the message will also be considered manipulative and untrustworthy.
12. Practicality and Efficiency
Americans have à reputation for being an extremely realistic, practical and efficient people. The practical consideration is likely to be given highest priority in making any important decision in the United States. Americans pride themselves in not being very philosophically or theoretically oriented. If Americans would even admit to having à philosophy, it would probably be that of pragmatism.
The love of "practicality" has also caused Americans to view some professions more favorably than others. Management and economics, for example, are much more popular in the United States than philosophy or anthropology, law and medicine more valued than the arts.
.Another way in which this favoring of the practical makes itself felt in the United States, is à belittling of "emotional" and 'subjective" evaluations in favor of "rational" and "objective" assessments. Americans try to avoid being too sentimental in making their decisions. They judge every situation "on its merits." The popular American "trial-and-error" approach to problem-solving also reflects the practical. This approach suggests listing several possible solutions to any given problem, then trying them out, one by one, to see which is most effective.
Foreigners generally consider Americans much more materialistic than Americans are likely to consider themselves. Americans would like to think that their material objects are just the natural benefits, which always result from hard work and serious intent à reward, they think, which all people could enjoy, were they as industrious and hard-working as Americans. But by any standard, Americans are materialistic. This means that they value and collect more material objects than most people would ever dream of owning. It also means they give higher priority to obtaining, maintaining and protecting their material objects than they do in developing and enjoying interpersonal relationships.