In spite of being „the nation of immigrants”, America´s diversity in regions, cultures, languages results in certain ideals and values, rooted in the country´s history, which many Americans share.
The most important value is freedom, the country seems to be the freest and the best in the world by words of its inhabitants. That is why so many people are attracted and fascinated by America. It is said to be the country of unlimited possibilities, chances for everyone who is strong enough to fight for his happy and successful life there.
Certain understanding of freedom was formed by the Founding Father (B. Franklin, Th. Jefferson, G. Washington) that all people are equal and the government is to protect each person´s „inalienable“ rights (základní nezcizitelná práva člověka).
The U. S. Constitution´s Bill of Rights (ratified in 1791), confirms individual rights such as provisions for freedom of speech, press, assembly and religion. American Constitution (ratified in 1789) is the only one in the world, contains a word „happiness“ and the pursuit of happiness is considered to be among the basic inalienable human rights.
Wide spread idea that America offers freedom for all is an ideal that unifies Americans and links present to past. But it does not meant that it was always like this. Due to religious, racial, sex, or age discrimination some Americans have not enjoyed the same rights and opportunities as others (black slavery, women´s rights, minority problems etc.). In fact, America´s history is the history of groups and individuals struggling to attain the freedoms the Founding Fathers promised.
It is believed that most of the beliefs and values characteristic for America emerged within the context of the frontier experience (the first newcomers to America had to be tough, strong and self-confident people to deal with difficult conditions in their new homeland).
Among American values belong:
It is not only self-reliance but also economic self-sufficiency, which has been a central topic in all American history. Due to moving the country, between wildnerness and savages, the first pioneers had to make their way alone, with rifle and axe (s ručnicí and sekerou). They had to take the law into own hands to fight against potencial danger and enemies. It alleged people´s insistence on their rights as an American – right to challenge government in the courts, throught organization and electoral activity, through referendum, recall and initiative. Whole society and landscape is shaped by this feature of individualism: the pattern of agricultural settlement (huge acreage of land, neighbour miles away as well as the nearest town, so different from conditions in Europe).
Cities were marked by individualism as well: created with checkrboard patterns so that each individual could select and standard plot and do with it what he wished.
A positive picture of American individualism is its opportunity of the individual, its grant of freedom, its encouragement of diversity. This was one of reasons why people moved from ther worn-out land and worn-out structures, abandoning them to start up anew on virgin territory.
Individial proprietoship in business is still regarded as the ideal. Governenmt is often resisted in the spirit of individualism, it has to protect „right to work“ for an independent worker.
In our century (1960s – 1970s), the economic individualism ran into trouble. New regulations and organisations were made in the field of improving economic situation (Federal Reserve Board and Federal Trade Commision, Securities and Exchange Commission, National Labor Relations Board). During presidential era of Johnson and Nixon, federal regulation of industry, business, education and state and local governments made its greatest and most decisive strides equal. The Employment Opportunity Commission was passed to prevent discrimination against mimorities and women in employment, then discrimination in housing and renting was banned, also bans on sex discrimination in higher education were imposed. The power of government increased to intervene in protection of equal human rights.
Consequently a strong attack was launched on the traditional division of occupational roles between men and women. But it sometimes resulted in such extreme movements like the Feminine Movements (viz poslední přednáška od Jima).
Much attention is being paid to prevent discrimination against blacks and other racial and national –origin minorities.
Inheriting the frontier experience legacy from their ancestor, Americans are inventive, they easily solve problems, do not complain about everything (in comparison to Czech people!). This self-reliance and „can-do“ spirit is a thing Americans are proud of today. They like to think they are natural-born do-it-yourselfers.
Freedom is, as severaly mentioned, one of the most important features in the whole American society, it has shaped the history and is connecting in with the present times.
This spirit is known as volunteerism in American society and politics. It means that people hold each other through privately-initiated, rather than government-sponsored agencies. It contains e.g. work in social services, charity organisations, legal aid, psychological counselling, education. This ideal is wide spread in American society and it shows people´s optimistic pride in their ability to work out practical solution themselves.
With this term is closely connected the value of practicality (solving problems, being „above the problems“, difficulties etc.).
Psychology of abundance (nadbytek)
In the deep past America was regarded to be a land of limitless wealth and people took for granted its abundance of resources. Fertility, huge places of virgin land attract lots of newcomers to America. Natural resources were enourmously used and exploited without thinking they could be exhausted once.
The U. S. are still rich in natural sources. But people have to realize, that nothing is neverending and they have to cope with a shrinking world (regarding to restrict growing population, wastefulness, water resources, an oxygen problems etc.).
It is contradiction comparing all these serious problems, because the psychology of abundance has become so much a part of the American way of life.
Connecting all these things mentioned above, the pragmatism and trust in an abundance of resources relates to the American habit of mobility. As a immigrant nation, Americans have shared the ideal the the practical solution to a probleme is to move elsewhere and make a fresh start. Mobility in American attitude is not a sign of aimlessness but optimism.
Moving about from one place to another is such an usual and accepted practice that most inhabitants také for granted that they may live in 4 or 5 cities during their life, perhabs buying a house and then reselling it each time they move.
This habit of moving has been an important in contributing adegree of homogeneity to a society of such extreme cultural diversity and spaciousness. Differences between cultures and people getting less sharp through the development of mutual coexistence.
Another consequent point is the Americans develop relatively little attachment to place. In the 20th century national pride has become commonly stronger that regional one (flags, the national anthem played at every sporting event, notes like „I´m proud to be American). National holidays (Thanksgiving – every 4th Thursday in November, Independence Day 4th July) reflect the sense of national identity.
In some nations patriotism is explained as the love of the land. In America this identification with a particular geographical region as the homeland is generally not developed to this extent.
American patriotism concentrates on th particular historic event of the nation´s creation as a new start and upon the idea of freedom which inspired the nation´s beginnings.
This value is connected with the value of freedom. Its roots we cal see again in the first pioneers´frontier experiences. The desire to progress by making use of opportunities is very important. Progress in American way of explanation means family progress over generations. The classic American family saga is all about progress.
The great-grandparents, arriving from the Old World with nothing but the clothes on their backs, work hard and suffer poverty and alienation (odcizení) so that they can provide a good education for their children. The following generation, motivated by the same vision of the future and willingness to work hard and make sacrifices, pass these values to their children.
The attainment (dosažení) of the vision of one´s grandparents is part of the American Dream.
„The dream of a land in which life should be better, richer, and fuller for every man with opportunities for each according to his abilities and achievement.“ It simply means that America is the country where you can turn your dreams into reality. There are no obstacles,, nobody is holding you back so if you work hard you can make money and become successful.
The idea of the American Dream is widely popularized in many rags-to-riches stories (e. g. stories about Dick and Jane) and in the portrayal of the good life in advertising on TV shows and movies. It teaches Americans to believe that contentment (spokojenost, uspokojení) can be reached through the virtues of thrift (šetrnost), hard work, family loyalty, and faith in the free enterprise systém.
The following question should be „is the American Dream really for everyone?“ The answer is „not“. Segregation and discrimination are effective tools which have barred minorities from eyual opportunities and chances in all spheres.
Questioning of values
Recent events (mostly 1960s, 1970s). Mainly the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal (from June 1972 to August 1974, several men hired by the Republicans broke into the main offices of the Democratic Party in a complex called Watergate). It resulted in the first presidential resignation in american history, when it was found out that he President Nixon tried to cover this embarrassing matter with his consultants).
All these happenings jolted the country with doubts and insecurities and created basic divisions among Americans about their country´s goals.
Czech beliefs and values
While comparing our values with the American one, there are some differences. One has already been mentioned: complaining about everything and all the time (health, financial problems, relationship problems). The best example you can see at the doctor´s waiting room or in the public transport). Americans do not complain so often, they concentrate on how to solve the certain problem.
Czech people do not smile very often as Americans do (it is not silly, happy smile as it is shown in TV shots, but why to be angry grumpy without any reason?).
The Czechs seem not be so curious and interesting in knowing everything. They tend to „know what I know“ (vědět svoje) which is maybe connected with a feeling to avoid anyone else´s pride behaviouring.
Czech nation is less noisy than American people. They have got a sense „know ho to arrange things“ (umění si to zařídit) developed through the era of communism.
They sometime tend to say they are more cultural nation than Americans. But if you imagine beer drinking in the morning cheap restaurants or pub talking and complaing about everything, is it a really culture?
The Czechs become really patriotic when some sport event takes a part (football, hockey, basketball). Lots of them become very furious when their favourite team is not successful. In such events Czech nation sings the national anthem, holds flags being very proud of its players.
Among Czech values belong a feeling for family life (in general), narrow relationship between families and neighbourers (e. g. in the block of flats, house colonies – řadové domy). All of us know unselfish grannies and aunts looking after their grandchildren, taking them to and from school, playing with them.
Another good example of patriotism in our country is the pride of our history (Jan Hus, Jan Žižka, Karel IV., the 1st President TGM etc.). In such matters we really appreciate to be the Czechs, we do appreciate our heroes for what they did for our nation.
Among the negative features of the Czech character we can point out: prejudice, envy, comparing with the others, newly developed appetence (chtíč) to have more and more money, to be more successful than their neighbours. Through the history they have been very successful in achieving to carry theirs points, to made themselves visible and successful.
On the other hand we have to keep our own identity, culture, language, habits and protect them against strange and non-Czech influences. We do not have to feel ashamed or cringe before (plazit se před někým) someone, or to copy someone else´s life attitude, culture as we sometimes do (copying western habits like buying American movis of a poor quality, bringing English words into the Czech language etc.).
Rybáčková J.: Amerika v zrcadlech
Materiály, které nám poskytl Jim na přednáškách
Amerika in close-up
5. říjen 2007