Values Americans live by

Values that underlie American behavior

In April 1984, L. Robert Kohls, who at the time was Executive Director of the Washington (DC) International Center, published a short paper titled “The Values Americans Live By”.

This seems like a long time ago — 36 years — in today’s rapidly changing world, but national culture changes very, very slowly, and the 13 values that Kohls and his colleagues had identified as being at the core of American culture still hold true today.

Why is this important for you, even if you never need to deal with Americans? Because the values that are important to each of us are the underlying reasons for the way we behave and the way we expect other people to behave.

Recognising our underlying values and understanding the profound ways in which they influence us is the key to intercultural competence. The problem is that it’s VERY DIFFICULT to see our own values and how they affect us!

To help you start to see which values might be important to you, below you can see the 13 American values that Kohls identified, along with their counterpart values that are important in some other countries.


American Values

  • Personal control over the environment
  • Change
  • Time and the control of it
  • Equality
  • Individualism / Privacy
  • Self-help
  • Competition
  • Future orientation
  • Action / Work orientation
  • Informality
  • Directness / Openness / Honesty
  • Practicality / Efficiency
  • Materialism / Acquisitiveness

Contrasting Values

  • Fate
  • Tradition
  • Human interaction
  • Hierarchy / Rank / Status
  • Group’s welfare
  • Birthright inheritance
  • Cooperation
  • Past orientation
  • “Being” orientation
  • Formality
  • Indirectness / Ritual / “Face”
  • Idealism
  • Spiritualism / Detachment

Over the next several lessons we’ll look in more detail at these values and how they influence behaviour and expectations.

PS. If you’re interested to read Kohl’s whole paper (8 pages), you can download the PDF here.

 

If you’d like to have a short call to talk about how to develop your own intercultural competence, email me at jane@beccacademy.com.

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