We have spoken to your mother. We know everything.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Home And Home For The Holidays, Part Three

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) to the most conservative of countries, that 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.

First, we need to 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 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 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.

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 thing home requires 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, we cannot commit to others. If the center of the circle of life that surrounds us is ever moving, the circle is uneven and imbalanced- and as a result, our lives will remain unbalanced. No matter the possessions or riches, 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 our best effort.

We have brought freedom to tens of millions. We have inspired freedom in tens 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 those values.

Freedom is a value system, not a culture. Thanksgiving is the perfect day to remember that.

There will be one more follow up post, tomorrow.