What makes us American? Here’s a brief look at freedom, equal opportunity and other values we hold dear.
I is for individual
Perhaps the most important component of the American mindset is that of individualism, and this is a product of both historical and cultural influences. The US did not evolve from a homogenous ethnic group, it was settled by immigrants who left their homelands to create a new life. This resulted in a people who emphasize problem-solving skills and the ability to achieve, and has led to the rugged individualism so prominent in the American character. This value is also reflected in the legal guarantees of individual freedom set forth by the US Constitution.
Not surprisingly, Americans view life in individual terms, and they choose jobs and places to live based on their individual needs. At home and at work they are accustomed to offering opinions and taking initiative. They want the chance to display their skills, and they expect to receive credit — or blame — for their ideas. This emphasis on individualism can be seen in the American school system as well, where children are taught from an early age to make independent decisions.
Equal rights for all
Another important American value is egalitarianism, or the idea that everyone deserves equal treatment. This does not, however, imply a belief in equal results, but rather, reflects the ideal of equalopportunity for all.
Like the American emphasis on individualism, egalitarianism can also be traced to historical influences. Early settlers embarked for the US to escape a hierarchical class system in their own countries, or for the promise of religious freedom and the opportunity to succeed based on their own skills and motivations. The belief that “all men are created equal” is enshrined in the US Declaration of Independence, and is an integral part of the American mindset.
The “American Dream” has always been that any person can rise to the top through hard work and ability. Because of this egalitarianism, Americans tend to be very informal, and even call their superiors at work by their first names. They also prefer to accord respect based on achievement rather than on social standing or position.
I can do it myself
Americans are a very self-reliant people, however, this should be distinguished from individualism, which is primarily the belief that all people should determine their own destiny and are guaranteed certain individual freedoms in the process. The American concept of self-reliance is to take responsibility for making your own way in the world. Although Americans believe the community should assist the most disadvantaged individuals, most people are expected to rely on their own talent and drive. Americans can be generous in helping the needy, but they resist collective guarantees of security. This value is at the heart of American entrepreneurialism. It also ignites controversy over government social programs.
Let freedom ring
Freedom is greatly appreciated in the US, and freedom is seen as the ability to live and do as you wish. Americans strongly believe that they are the best judges of their own actions, and they resent being told how to act or what to believe. Although they will listen to strong leaders who have earned their respect, they resent individuals who have an air of superiority.
Time is money
A favorite American saying suggests “time is money,” and this expression provides an important clue to understanding the daily motivations of Americans, and why they often focus on short-term results. Decisions are made more quickly in the US than in group-oriented societies. Businesses do not always work to develop long-term relationships, but are often influenced by quarterly reports and shareholder interests. There is a strong emphasis on immediate achievement in the US not seen in cultures with a longer view of time and a greater acceptance of the cycles of life.
Get to the point
Communication styles in the US are far more direct than in many countries. Americans usually come to the point quickly, and don’t like to “talk around” a subject. They also prefer to rely on summaries of information, rather than detailed background reports. “Just give me the bottom line,” is another telling American phrase that highlights the desire to know only the most relevant facts. Americans tend to use a great deal of hype and superlatives when promoting a product or opinion. They also tend to see issues in “either-or” terms, and expect others to agree or disagree. Rarely do they appreciate the middle ground.
Striking a bargain
In the US, negotiations are a competitive activity where bargains are struck and decisions are made. Each side is expected to compromise to some degree, and the focus is always on bottom-line results. Conflict is also expected, and disagreements are perceived as simply part of the business process. It is common for Americans to separate business and personal issues. When making decisions, majority opinion is valued, but the senior executive often has the final authority.