Values are collective Ideas about what Is right or wrong. good or bad. and desirable or undesirable in a particular culture (Williams. 1970). Values do not dictate which behaviors arc appropriate and which ones are not. but they provide us with the criteria by which we evaluate people. objects. and events. Values typically come in pairs of positive and negative values, such as being brave or cowardly. hardworking or lazy. Because we use values to justify our behavior, w~ tend to defend them staunchly (Kluckhohn, 1961). Core American Values Do we have shared values in the United States? Sociologists disagree about the extent to which all people in this country share 11 core set of values. Functionalists tend to believe that shared values are essential for the maintenance of a society, and scholars using II functionalist approach have conducted most of the research on core values. Analysts who focus on the importance of core values maintain that the following ten values. identified forty years ago by sociologist Robin M. Williams, Jr. (1970). are still very important to people ill the United States
1. Individualism. People are responsible for their own success or failure. Individual ability and hard work are the keys to success. th0se who do not succeed have only themselves to blame because of their lack of ability, laziness, immorality, or other character defects.
2. Achievement and success. Personal achievement results’ from successful competition with others. Individuals are encouraged to do better than others in school and to work in order to gain wealth. power, and prestige. Material possessions are seen as a sign of personal achievement.
3 Activity and work. People who are industrious are praised for their achievement; those perceived as lazy arc ridiculed. From the time of the early Puritans. work has been viewed as important. Even during their leisure time, many people “work” in their play. ‘Think, for example, of all the individuals who take exercise classes, run in marathons, garden, repair or restore .cars. and so on in their spare time.
4. Science and technology. People in the United States have a great deal of faith in science and technology. They expect scientific and technological advances ultimately to control nature, the aging process. and even death.
5. Progress and lIlaterial comfort. The material comforts of life include not only basic necessities (such as adequate shelter, nutrition. and medical cure) but also the goods and services that make life easier and more pleasant.
6, Efficiency and practicality. People want things to be bigger, better. and faster. As a result, great value is placed on efficiency (“How well does it work?”) and practicality (“Is this a realistic thing to do?”).
7. Equality. Since colonial times, overt class distinctions have been rejected in the United States. However, “equality” has been defined as “equality of opportullity”-an assumed equal chance to achieve success-not as “equality of outcome.”
8. Morality and humanitarianism. Aiding others. especially following natural disasters (such as floods or hurricanes), is seen as a value. The notion of helping others was originally a part of religious teachings and tied to the idea of morality. Today. people engage in humanitarian acts without necessarily perceiving that it is the “moral” thing to do.
9. Freedom and liberty. Individual freedom is highly valued in the United States. TIle idea of freedom includes the right to private ownership of property, he ability to engage in private enterprise, freedom of the press, and other freedoms that are considered to be “basic” rights.IO. Racism and group superiority. People value their own racial or ethnic group above all others. Such feelings of superiority may lead to discrimination; slavery and segregation laws are classic examples. Many people also believe in the superiority of their country and that “the American way of life” is best Do you think that these values are still important today? Are there core values that you believe should
be added to this list? Although sociologists have not agreed upon a specific list of emerging core values, various social analysts have suggested that some additional shared values in the United States today include the following: • Ecological sensitivity, with an increased awareness of global problems such as overpopulation and global warming.
• Emphasis on developing and maintaining relationships through honesty and with openness, fairness. and tolerance of others.
• Spirituality and a need for meaning in life that reaches beyond oneself