Where Have All Our Values Gone?
What is happening to our American Values? You remember values, don’t you? You know, those moral thoughts and behaviors we used to hold dear, like decency, civility, honesty and respect, as well as caring, optimism, empathy and tolerance?
This country was a beacon of idealism and progressive values to people the world over. Its foundational credos, the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence, were revered at home and emulated abroad. American children were taught their significance, and education and knowledge were cornerstones of our achievement.
A sense of being part of the “American community” enhanced our citizens. The Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, symbolizing lofty ideals and values, welcomed millions of immigrants to these shores. The newcomers (our ancestors) worked hard, contributed to this country, and they and their children thrived, sharing the American Dream.
The values cited above represented the best of humanity, and fostered a culture of benevolence, creativity and opportunity.
But that was then, and This is Now…
“This is Now” refers to the current “alt-values” prevalent today which are antithetical to those “best of humanity” values. These words and actions convey anger, rudeness, hate, greed, lying, selfishness, intolerance and callousness.
These “alt” credos and codes of behavior are the trademarks of the incivility we witness on a daily basis, often expressed with rancor and rage. They have become commonplace on television, in social media and in everyday life. Of even more concern is that these new “moral standards” serve as models of behavior for our impressionable children and youth.
There is no doubt that we live in a dangerous world, both at home and abroad, and we must certainly be vigilant and protect ourselves. But in the all-encompassing service of strengthening our forces and intelligence agencies, we could lose sight of our basic human values and diminish the essences of what made this country so exceptional.
Citizens in a democracy are encouraged to either criticize or support political parties and policies. But in the current alt-values climate, political conflict has become filled with insults and invective.
The discordant words and behavior of political leaders can be toxic to the core values we cherished. If the new norm consists of demeaning and disrespectful utterances, or bullying and belligerent behaviors, we invite the decline and degradation of our nation’s better values, and our quality of life.
Demagoguery engenders anger, hatred and fear and these “emotional viruses” can easily spread among a vulnerable population through a process known as “social contagion.” These negative emotions insinuate themselves into the social atmosphere, wreaking havoc with people’s thoughts, emotions and behavior.
When we demonstrate respect, tolerance and caring, we encourage the same benevolent behaviors in return. By the same token, when we convey incivility and brutishness, we provoke antagonistic responses in others.
If we continue our descent into callousness, selfishness and hostility, we negatively impact and harm the quality of our lives. Words of rage and hate can easily be forerunners of violence.
We have crucial decisions to make about our core values, manifested by our attitudes and behaviors. Our future as a civil and democratic republic and as a progressive society is at stake.
Just as we are using our formidable intellect and creativity to reduce our carbon footprint, we can similarly mobilize our resources to improve our emotional footprint, or how we treat and affect each other.
When we express the values most true to our best human instincts, we create a positive emotional footprint, and we improve the quality of life for all of us. We do have a choice…