Today's Topic



Really American,
Part IV

Part I
Part II
Part III

Natalia J. Garland

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The Preamble of the Constitution uses the terms general welfare and blessings of liberty. What are some of the concrete specifics of these terms? For the purpose of this essay, I will group these specifics into what I call my American Piñata. Let's break open the Piñata and see what falls out today.


  • Work ethic
  • Education
  • Upward mobility
  • Home ownership
  • Equality of women
  • Protection of children
  • Optimism
  • Worship

The first four specifics are related to our outlook on life. There is usually, although not always, a cause and effect interaction among these. The work ethic is a belief that our jobs should be meaningful and not dehumanizing. Work that is degrading and work that is strictly profit-driven are not within our ideals. Meaningful work has both financial and emotional rewards. The work ethic also separates us from the terrorists. Americans work for what they want. Terrorists destroy or take what others have worked for.

Americans believe in education for all children. The public education system is intended to make it possible for all children to receive an adequate education. Advanced education can lead to more fulfilling work for many people, but not necessarily higher pay nowadays. Another important aspect of education is that our free elections depend on an educated citizenry. People must know how to read and write, and how to think critically.

Many immigrants come to America for the possibility of upward mobility. Americans appreciate the success of the self-made man. Ideally, this means that you do not have to do what your parents did. You can shift the course of your family history. You can even start from nothing and build something. You can leave behind an unhappy past and start fresh in America.

Many immigrants also experienced the hardships presented by malevolent landlords. Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Americans value private home ownership. Buying your first house is like a rite of passage. Urban renewal has made apartment dwelling more attractive and practical, but most Americans seem to prefer to pay off a mortgage. We are a domesticated people with an interest in home improvement. We fix things. We make things work better and look better.

The next two specifics involve the relationships among people as opposed to the use people as objects. The equality of women enables society to function more happily and productively. The subjugation or abuse of women robs society of half its human potential. Terrorists appear to hate women, even within their own culture. If terrorists can be terrified, it is female sexuality and intelligence that terrifies them.

Likewise, the protection of children is based on caring relationships. Children are dependent on the care of adults. Children have no choice in how the adult world treats them. It is necessary to have laws that protect the most vulnerable members of society from abuse and exploitation. Americans value the concept of a happy childhood. A well-adjusted child should be better able to fulfill educational expectations and work responsibilities.

Finally, we come to the psychological and spiritual specifics, optimism and worship. These qualities provide a foundation for our morals, principles, and relationships. As optimists we tend to believe that what is good for us is good for humankind. We affirm democracies and internal democratic reforms. We look at life in terms of hope and possibility. Self-actualization is valued as highly as a basic human right.

Although spirituality has become the preferred term, I have chosen to use the term worship. Worship implies belief in a deity, in an authority higher than and outside of oneself. To be really American means to have a conscience. We believe there is a creator of life and an ultimate accountability for how we spend our time on this earth.

What makes all these qualities click together? What makes hard work and education effective? Well, let's take another whack at my American Piñata and see what falls out this time.


American values and ideals proceed via the channels of opportunity and independence. This is a country where people can turn their disadvantages into advantages. Taking advantage of opportunity requires a work ethic and optimism. Taking advantage of independence requires equality, responsibility, and accountability. America is the home of the brave. We are defenders of democracy. We are liberators of the oppressed and protectors of the vulnerable. This is our true national character. This is also historical fact.

If we have houses, schools, computers, a savings account: we owe this to the writers of the Preamble of the Constitution who taught us to promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty. (Written 09/27/04)

Until we meet again..............stay sane.

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Copyright 2004 Natalia J. Garland