Posts Tagged ‘traditions’

So what is it, exactly, that generates a sense of national identity or cohesiveness? Obviously, the title to this blog gave that away. It is comprised of two components: shared values, plus shared traditions.

Interestingly, this can involve any shared values, and any shared traditions. A shared value is obviously something we all believe in, like being respectful. A shared tradition is something like setting off fireworks on the Fourth of July. The previous blog covered the idea of shared traditions–things like holidays to initiate young people into the work force, holidays to initiate them into society–holidays, actually, for practically anything, but ones that everyone values and supports. Today I’m going to focus on shared values.

Because they embrace Confucianism as a people, the Japanese have Confucian shared values. We have traditionally had Judeo-Christian shared values, although Muslim nations have Islamic shared values, and ancient Sparta had a really unusual set of shared values (having to do with toughening up children to be the warriors of the fighting city-state they believed they needed to be to survive). The point is that there actually be a set a of shared values that most us value.

The problem we have in the U.S. today is that we are increasingly unable to settle upon a shared set of values that we all agree upon. Because there are various religious beliefs represented among our increasingly diverse citizenship we hesitate to mandate the Judeo-Christian tradition upon those unwilling to adhere to it. Thus, the problem becomes, what are the shared values we, as a people group, embrace?

If we are to arrive at a sense of national identity that survives in the coming years it is essential that we settle upon something. My suggestion is that while various of us may personally embrace our private belief systems, we join together as citizens of this country and arrive at a religion-neutral base: a basic set of values–rights and wrongs–that most of us can agree upon.

It is interesting that if we were to hypothetically conduct an experiment and pool diverse individuals from diverse backgrounds (and even different countries), they could probably agree upon a basic code of right and wrong. Everyone agrees stealing is wrong. Everyone understands lying is wrong. Everyone feels people should be respectful of others. We agree murder is wrong. What we differ in is our interpretation of what constitutes stealing, lying, murder, etc. Mennonites, for example, feel fighting as a soldier is murder, while most other religions do not; certain Muslim groups believe blowing yourself up for the cause of Allah is admirable, but most other people do not. What needs to be worked out are the details because there is consensus as to the general ideas of morality.

The purpose of a program such as this wouldn’t be to establish a big brother type of government to enforce compliance with a pre-determined value system. That would be a dictatorship, not a democracy or republic, such as we have. But promoting values isn’t in the exclusive domain of dictator states; every country has the perrogative and, dare I say, responsibility, to determine what it values and to appropriately allocate resources to promote it.

We currently value going green; we allocate resources to it. We could likewise allocate resources to promoting higher education as a goal for everyone. We could promote a nationwide plan of personal savings, say encouraging all of us to store away half of a year’s worth of income “for a rainy day.” This could potentially lessen the strain on public funds in terms of welfare and unemployment compensation. We could promote a campaign of something as simple as community pride (keeping your neighborhood clean and safe), or general respectfulness for others (by smiling or giving up your seat on a bus or helping someone out).

The possibilities are endless, and they are good.

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