American values are a tricky thing. It seems that the value set changes with each individual. American pragmatism is actually rooted in deeply held anti-authoritarian, individualistic, egalitarian, activist ideals, which privilege personal choice, flexibility, and technical efficiency with the pursuit of success, however success is defined. (Hall, Lindholm, pg. 91) Basically, an individual’s values are what that individual decides they are. The key to understanding this is realizing that above almost all else, Americans prize, value, and recognize the sacredness of being an individual.
Certainly there are basic expectations of all people living in American society regardless of how the individual feels they must recognize that they exist in the U.S. with a billion individuals. Americans seem to think . . . that ‘nice’ people of good will, as all true Americans are assumed to be, ought to be able to reach a compromise and keep the social peace.
Those who keep on refusing the path of compromise are castigated as trouble-makers, demagogues, and even un-American. (Lipset, pg. 44) The rules are simple. I am an individual trying to exist with lots of other individuals and we are all trying not to kill one another and still live a satisfying existence. But, how does understanding the situation affect how I choose to live? It is still up to me to decide whether or not I will steal a dress from a store, purchase it with cash, or pay for it with a credit card. What do I value most, freedom – assuming I get caught stealing the dress, outright ownership of something I can buy or willingness to owe someone for something I cannot currently afford? Unfortunately understanding that I am an individual and am responsible for creating the list of what values I will abide by does not make living by my values any easier. I feel as if I live my life trying to find a balance between two worlds that overlap in some ways and will never touch in others.
The United States has numerous religious, racial, and ethnic groups as well as countless interest groups . . . This state of affairs makes the job of specifying U.S. values difficult.
(Henslin, pg. 46) I live now, and will eventually work, in what is recognized as traditional white male America. The rules are fairly clear-cut and easy to understand. Work hard at an important job, earn lots of money to buy lots of nice things, and if you ever have any doubts or questions, check the data because science has proven everything. However, I am also saddled with knowing that these rules do not hold true in every situation.
I have had the joy of knowing that money means nothing, that accepting what is given to you naturally by way of family or talent is enough to satisfy, and that there are many things that occur within the realm of nature that there are no explanations for and you just have to believe. The conflict lies in the fact that one value I hold in one instance is perfectly countered by what I hold important in another. I cannot possibly satisfy living up to all of my values all of the time because each set aspires to different goals. So I live my life by trying to meet each thing I come to with the understanding that I may have to change my plan midstream because I judged the situation incorrectly. I have to accept that my values have to be flexible enough for me exist in the two world I have chosen to be in my life.
I cannot allow myself to feel like I am betraying on ideal for another because each might be able to exist separately. Sometimes I have to choose between Native Rebecca and White Rebecca. I am racially fully native, but culturally and even ethnically, I am of mixed blood – both native and white, and am constantly faced with internal prejudice. What is right for me in one instance is not acceptable in another. For instance, when I go home to visit family on the Tuscarora Indian Reservation I have to remember where I am because my ways of behaving here in Virginia are very different from how I behave in Lewiston, New York. My Virginia self has no problem going out and asking someone for help or support and expecting an immediate response. This is because in that system of values I am responsible for going and getting what I need.
I expect to find what I need exactly when I need it and I expect to be able to have access to it, assuming of course that I can afford it. On the reserve, it is not about having access to something and certainly not about being able to afford it. I would never cross the street and ask a neighbor for something, even if I could pay for it. First of all, it would be a great insult to pay for something that someone does not generally sell because I am not allowing her to give to me. Secondly, I would be insulting the person that I would go to because she was irresponsible for not noticing that I had a need. This could be from the obvious, my house in on fire, to the subtle, my telephone is out and my neighbor has a cell phone. The focus here is not on getting what you need but that what you need is being provided to you by the people that you provide for.
My neighbor knows I am sick without me calling her and she sends her daughter with corn soup for my entire family. I know a cousin down the road is short on food money this week so I send my niece to my cousin’s house with some of the soup my neighbor gave me. My neighbor works all week so my cousin cleans her house for a few dollars to make ends meet. All of these negotiations occur without anyone actually saying, I need. The values are not focused on the individual but rather a single greater value rises, the community is expected to behave like a community.
So, if having or not having money on the reservation is a non-issue why am I working hard in college to work in a field renowned for its high paying jobs? An additional conflict within the value system that I have created for myself involves my perception and appreciation of money. On one hand, it is important to me to work hard and earn a good living. On the other hand, I feel like I should be happy that I have a beautiful child, I am healthy, with a sound mind, and to ask for more is simply selfish. I have three brothers and three sisters. One brother graduated from Notre Dame’s School of Architecture.
One sister graduated from Buffalo University with a degree in Finance. I am working on a degree in Management Information Systems. We obviously did not choose these fields because they were community focused. We chose these professions because we could earn a lot of money in the fields and we want to have lots of money. Does this mean money has replaced the value of being satisfied with little or accepting what you have and being happy with that? No.
Money does not substitute vales. It simply puts the values to the test. One of my sisters is too young to be included in this example, but I have two brothers and another sister that combined earn less than I will when I start working. That is slightly unfair to say because my one sister is not working and instead stays home to care for her child. But the point is, she prefers spending her time at home over working because her needs are being met.
She is happy with what she has. My two brothers work construction and only work seven months out of the year, winters are harsh in the Buffalo, NY area where they work. They all live at home so housing and food is provided. The conditions for the room and board are simple, without asking the dishes are always washed, the water is always full, the garbage is always take …