Friday, May 6, 2011

100 Words About: The American Cultural Dichotomy

Growing up as a WASP in small-town America, many moral values were impressed upon me. I was told that honesty was valued, and honor, and chastity, and loving one's neighbor. I was told that compassion was important, and sharing was praised, and understanding and empathy and charity were supposed to guide my actions.

All of these virtues were given lip service.

But we are a country where cunning is often valued more highly than honesty, and skillful manipulation is admired. People talk about honor to their kids, but they don't practice it, and it's often derided in favor of "sense." ("She said she would do X and he believed her? That boy don't have a lick of sense.")

Maybe it comes from being a country founded on using guerrilla tactics against "honorably" ranked and drawn-up troops. The founding fathers weren't terrorists; they had "sense."

This dichotomy has often left me feeling conflicted. Honesty is the one that gets me the most often. I admire honesty, but I also admire sophistry. (More in the classic sense than the modern, but both apply.) Sophistry requires skill. Honesty requires courage. The fable of George Washington and the cherry tree never seems to end with the serious ass-whuppin' his honesty probably would've gotten him. If it did, I think most Americans would probably have the attitude of "well, snaps to him and all, but that was dumb."

We admire bravery. But we admire it more when it's coupled with cleverness. And we never forgive or forget when it comes to getting caught out.

Image: vichie81 /

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