In my freshmen class, we have been discussing who we are as Americans: what drives us? what characterizes us? who do we strive to be?
One of the best ways to do this is to look at other cultures (and, I should preface this–I am no cultural expert–I have been out of the country one time but I try to use those experiences to inform my perceptions). In countries, such as Italy, France, and Greece, family appears to be important. During the afternoon, businesses and schools close for a couple hours for everyone to go home, eat lunch together, sip some wine on the porch, take a nap, and return back to work for a few more hours. It is not necessarily about going-going-going-being successful-and-not-stopping-and-filling-your-life-with-meaningful-activities, but more about sitting back and enjoying the company and the charm of the countryside.
I think, as Americans, we can learn something from the Italians: to sit back, relax, and enjoy. Something I think is unique to Americans is that we are progressive people. We are always trying to invent, innovate, improve, make better. I think about all of the catastrophes our country has dealt with in the last few years–the Aurora Theatre Shooting, Sandy Hook, the wildfires and floods in Colorado, the Boston Marathon Bombing–the list really can go on and on and on and on. But, as Americans, our reaction is to figure out how these events occurred and how we can make protocols and changes so they do not occur again. Now, when you go to the movie theatre, an escort walks around on a timed basis with a red glow stick and checks the vicinity. Since Columbine, schools have cracked down on school security. We now have response protocols, colored papers, security guards, armed police officers, cameras, metal detectors, etc. in case of emergency. We set up scenarios and know what to do if xyz happens, or zyx.
We can also think about all the charities and organizations that were created in lieu of something tragic happening: Judi’s House, a bereavement center in Denver. MADD, Mother’s Against Drunk Drivers, an organization committed educating about drunk driving. Race for the Cure, a fundraiser to raise money for breast cancer research. Think of how many memorial sites we create, trees we plant, benches we construct in memory of someone significant. As Americans, we use these as markers of what life could have been–and where we have progressed since.
We can also see this value of progress in our government. After the Civil War, we gave all men the right to vote. In 1920, we ended women’s suffrage and gave women the right to vote. In the 2000’s, we legalized civil unions and gay marriage in places. We passed Amendment 64 in Colorado. As technology in our society evolves, we begin creating avenues and procedures for cyberbullying, online marketing, gambling, dating, etc. We are constantly looking at issues, conflicts, problems, etc. and we are trying to figure out ways to make life better. Consider the FDA: before the Food and Drug Administration was created, companies could sell whatever they wanted at whatever price they wanted and could be as sanitary or unsanitary as they wanted. As Americans, we decided this was not right and created a government agency to improve our standard of living. Same thing with labor laws: we looked at how corporations treated their employees and created regulations to protect the employee. We have laws about uniforms, minimum wage requirements, and mandatory breaks.
As Americans (and especially as Western Americans), we are not content with the status quo: we constantly want to find new ways to do things, tackle new challenges, invent systems to make our quality of living better (which is probably why that AirCurler, you know, the one that twists your hair like a cotton candy machine, exists). We may not always have the best ideas, our procedures may not always be successful, and we may fail miserably, but we still try.