A recent survey by The Wall Street Journal and NORC at the University of Chicago found that Americans are moving away from values traditionally defining the country. These values include a belief in the importance of religion, patriotism, and having children. The study found that younger generations, in particular, are less likely to prioritize these values than previous generations. However, the survey additionally found that specific values remain central to American life, such as the importance of hard work and self-reliance, across all age groups.
Undoubtedly some people will find the survey results troubling as they suggest that Americans are pulling back from values that have long defined the country, such as respect for individual rights and freedoms, a belief in the importance of democracy, and a commitment to equal opportunity for all, along with the further indication that many Americans are feeling disillusioned and frustrated with the country’s current state. These frustrations have played out in recent years and are seen as contributing to social and political unrest.
Yet, all hope is not lost if we can pause long enough to reframe the conversation in a way that moves us away from polarization, divisiveness, and a breakdown in social cohesion to something more.
While the survey touches on issues of diversity in terms of value alignment, we are left to make sense of data from our own perspectives. The findings indicate that American values are evolving over time and not simply becoming polarized but more diverse overall. As younger generations, for example, place less emphasis on certain traditional values, they may prioritize different core values and perspectives that reflect a more inclusive society. What feels incredibly present for me is that conventional ways of thinking, while valuable in some respect, are not always the best path forward.
It may be that diversity is just what is needed in this moment—instead of pitting one another against each other, it is a moment to take stock of the assets and opportunities that might be created because we do not see the world through the same lens. Instead of arguing for our position, it is an opportunity if we choose wisely to develop solutions based on collective wisdom that advance our society as a whole.
What exactly are we holding on to?
My grade school, social studies classes, were abundant with talk about the American Dream and how the US was the great melting pot of the world. Teachers uplifted the idea that people from around the globe came together to create this great nation sans a couple of key details about how that all came to be.
I, like many Americans, was educated to believe that the melting pot philosophy was one to embrace. The notion is that people from different backgrounds and cultures come together in a new society, and their unique identities and traditions blend to create a new, unified culture.
Yet, what remained unspoken and still needs to be understood by many today is that the melting pot concept was never about blending. Rather it describes the assimilation of diverse cultures, identities, and traditions into a homogeneous culture. A process that involves shedding aspects of one’s own culture in favor of adopting the values, beliefs, and practices of the dominant culture. A process that is spoken about as a means to promote social cohesion and national pride—and yet a process that relies on minority groups’ conformation to the dominant culture and erasure of their cultural traditions.
What we are witnessing today is pushback from those that are actively resisting the melting pot philosophy in favor of upholding their unique cultural heritage and identity, whether that be racial, ethnic, sexual orientation, or otherwise.
There is a shunning of the burden that has historically been placed on the backs of marginalized groups to give up themselves, along with a challenge to the dominant culture to step up and meet the moment by accepting and valuing diversity in a multicultural society.
This shift in perspective around the values studied is not one-sided. Those with traditional values and beliefs (as defined in the study) are equally pushing back in this moment, with a similar desire to have their beliefs respected. The watering down of values, regardless of whose, will always be met with resistance, so we must view this as a two-way street. We will be locked in an endless game of “tug of war.”, where there are no ultimate winners, until we collectively decide to put down the rope. Until then, there are only new games, leaving each side’s future uncertain.
What if I can’t accept your way of life?
Like many, I am wrestling with this idea of where we go next. We are at a crossroads where there are paths that lead to further polarization in beliefs and others that lead to a more humanized destination in which we recognize each other as we are.
My hope is that we will eventually make the strides needed to get to a place of acceptance of cultural differences. And yet, the years have demonstrated this is slow work.
Suppose we can meet in the middle. In that case, it may take on the form of tolerance, or our ability to allow differences to exist among groups, even if one does not necessarily agree with or understand them. In the context of cultural diversity, tolerance involves recognizing cultural perspectives and differences while creating a society where people are free to express their cultural identity without fear of discrimination or persecution.
While not a full embrace, tolerance enables people to live together in peace and harmony, even with their differences. On the other hand, the absence of tolerance can lead to discrimination and social exclusion, further marginalizing groups and eroding social cohesion.
If we move even further toward acceptance of difference, we may see the grip of polarization lessen.
Acceptance creates space for greater empathy and understanding among individuals with different viewpoints. When people are willing to listen to and consider different perspectives, they are more likely to recognize the validity of other people’s experiences and beliefs, and less likely to see them as enemies or adversaries. This can lead to more productive and respectful dialogue rather than hostility and conflict.
A shift towards acceptance of different perspectives can also help break down the “us versus them” mentality that often fuels polarization. When people are able to recognize the humanity and complexity of those with whom they disagree, they are more likely to find common ground and work together toward shared goals rather than demonizing and opposing each other.
Finally, acceptance of different perspectives provides the one thing seemingly present on both sides of any conflict: the ability to feel valued and heard.
So instead of investing in what used to be, I am diving into the inquiry of what is possible– and that includes welcoming a multitude of perspectives along the journey.
To explore what growing a culture of acceptance looks like within your organization, schedule a free 30 minute consultative session with us today!