Home And Home For The Holidays, Part Three
November 26, 2008
There is an old saying, ‘If you want to be loved, love somebody.’
All over the world, a common criticism of America is that we export- and force- our culture on others. The list of nations and societies that make these charges, range from Canada (where the government insists on a prescribed amount of ‘Canadian content,’ enforced by TV stations being precluded from broadcasting some non Canadian produced cooking shows. In another example of national chest beating and ‘we’ll shop them!’ while Al Jazeera is approved for distribution and broadcast in Canada, Fox News is not) to the most conservative of countries, see American movies and fast food as the frontal assault on religious and cultural values that are centuries, if not millennia, old.
The exporting of values, like charity, begins at home.
It is imperative that we define the distinctions between what is the prevalent American culture, and what are American values.
Hollywood and hamburgers are culture. Home and family are values.
Freedom is a value, refined as the freedom to choose from the infinite menu of human dreams.
If there is one great failing of our ever expanding ideal of bringing freedom to those who have been deprived of that gift, it is the American predilection for efficiency.
We go around the world touting democracy- and we display the fruits of our freedoms as shiny trinkets, as if somehow, democracy can be reduced to an ideology of materialism and consumption. Fast food, movies, and other ostentatious displays of consumerism are used to bedazzle and impress those to whom such luxuries are unknown.
We live in a society where all hungry people have to do relieve hunger is pick up the phone and say, “I’m hungry.” Not only is food available, but you can have it delivered- any kind of food you like. It is no wonder that it is the materialism and consumption mesmerizes people. They do not see or understand the freedom that made that possible. On a darker note, they do not see the work and effort, the blood sweat and tears, that went into creating that society. Too many believe the riches come easily. Culture is ubiquitous and visible- values very much less so.
If we are to properly expound on the values of our nation and not just it’s culture, we need to start at home. That is incumbent upon each of us, to instill beliefs and values that reflect our values. That is true even if we come from dysfunctional families. That is true even if we have never really known or experienced ‘home.’ Why? Because if we don’t make ‘home’ that place of refuge, calm and comfort for ourselves, we will forever remain in ’survival mode’- reacting to the high adrenalin mode of dealing with only immediate needs. Do our kids have to have the latest tech toy to be happy? Do we have to put everything down so we can watch the latest episode of this season’s ‘must watch TV‘? Has being enslaved by up to the minute pop cultural dictates or fashion come to dictate our definition of values and ‘home’? Of course not.
What then, is a healthy home? How can those that have never experienced the comforts of home, feel comfortable building a real home, ‘in the dark,’ so to speak? On a more subtle note, what are the American values that define our home? Can they be described? Can those values be described and easily understood by others?
It is clear that the foundation of healthy home is the spiritual connections that are found there. Not necessarily the religious and stereotypical context of the word, but rather, spiritual in the sense of people who embrace life and celebrate life. Home is where meaningful exchanges and conversations take place, where ideas are shared in a honest and encouraging way, discussed without fear of ridicule. Home is place where words do not have to be measured and there are no eggshells to be found. At home, egos are not wielded like swords. Instead, they are replaced with common goals and ideals and larger visions. Even disagreement is welcome. The idea that one is free to disagree in safety and sureness of place, is particularly important. Arguments are made with logic and dialogue, not with emotion and insecurity, swung about to inflict pain.
Home is a safe place.
Still, the one common ingredient homes of all kinds require is commitment. Home requires the willingness to establish roots. It is true we all need and crave extraneous stimulation, but in the end, we also need a home to come back to. If we cannot commit to ourselves, our beliefs and our values, we cannot commit to others. If the center of the circle of life that surrounds us is ever moving, the circle is uneven- and therefore out of balance. As a result, our lives will remain unbalanced. No matter the possessions or riches, no matter the external acclaim or temporal approval- with no center, we remain undefined. We become hostages to a culture that has no deep roots. That is who we become- an extension of our culture, not our values.
The Romans exported roads and public works. The Greeks exported academies and philosophy. America exports jeans, fried chicken and Paris Hilton. Not exactly the best way to define what are American values.
We have brought freedom to hundreds of millions. We have inspired freedom in hundreds of millions more. We need to remember that what has inspired the world are American values. We also need to remember that
American culture does not represent American values.
In America, we understand that the Judeo-Christian ethic liberates man’s soul. We also understand that freedom and the willingness to fight for freedom, liberates man’s spirit. These are not necessarily religious concepts, though these ideas are derived from an evolution of religious thought, nurtured in an environment where religious expression was allowed to flourish, unimpeded by religious or political dictate.
There is a great lesson to be learned. Real religious tolerance came about as the result of real political freedom. Real cultural and ethnic tolerance came about as the result of the free marketplace of thoughts and ideas. All the so called ‘people’s movements,’ in the past, were nothing but a sham that left nations in cold darkness for decades. Tyrants and despots today, the world over, offer nothing but darkness and oppression.
There are no long lines of free people seeking immigration to those places.
There is no other nation in the world that has done so much to free the soul and spirit and of man. There is no other nation that has done so much to nurture and support those who yearn to be free. America, and Americans, tell the story of dignity. There are no kings and queens and there is no real aristocracy.
American dignity is defined by those who fought and died for freedom and those who came to these shores to succeed and to be an equal among equals at the same time.
The barrier to becoming an American is easy to overcome. All this nation asks of it’s newcomers is that they treat those around them with respect and dignity.
Some nations take pride in their immaculate national costumes and music. Americans take pride in their diversity and freedom to choose. Each day, new ‘wretched refuse’ come to these shores to make their dreams come true. Each day, the descendants of the ‘wretched refuse’ that came before them, welcome them into the melting pot, because deep down, we speak their language. We value and reward the efforts they put into their labor, as others did for earlier immigrants. We don’t care where you came from, what language you speak or how you pray. We care that you contribute to the society around you and treat all with respect and dignity.
The real mark of an American, regardless of origin is not only the desire, but the demand that all who reside in this great nation be treated equally. Americans demand equal opportunity and equal justice. Americans demand that the law be applicable to all, equally. Americans demand that we all wait in line, no matter our origins, beliefs or station on life. Exclude a single ethnic group from America and this country would be a different- and poorer place.
Freedom is a value system, not a culture.
Europeans were only too happy to rid themselves of the ‘wretched refuse.’ Later, immigrants to Europe became a burden to that continent, demanding not equality but superiority. In America, immigrants are absorbed as a treasure, contributing mightily to the riches of this country. We are equally grateful that those who did come to these shores, seeking opportunities that can be found nowhere else, came with the fire of freedom burning in the very essence of their being, and an even greater burning desire to be a part of this ‘great experiment.’
Thanksgiving is the perfect day to remember the singular truth that in America we are grateful for the blessings and riches that came about only because of our diversity and the freedoms this nation bestowed upon all who came to these shores.
Europeans were only too happy to rid themselves of the ‘wretched refuse.’ Later, immigrants to Europe became a burden to that continent. In America, immigrants are absorbed as a treasure, contributing mightily to the riches of this country. We are equally grateful that those who did come to these shores, seeking opportunities that can be found nowhere else, came with the fire of freedom burning in the very essence of their being, and an even greater burning desire to be a part of this ‘great experiment.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Portions of this post have been previously published.