Americans love looking forward into the future. Things get better from here, and there is always room for improvement. In the future, we can build and grow, and those are very good things.
As we continue looking at aspects of American culture, it will actually get harder to understand just how we are different because these concepts are so ingrained into our worldview. Not only may they be hard to understand, but to think that other cultures do not think the way we do may even make us think they are wrong. I hope to challenge that gut reaction and take a look at the beauty in the differences.I wanted to discuss how Americans think they are in control of their destiny. Of course, there are things that are outside of our control, such as illness and natural disasters, but generally speaking, Americans have the mentality that if you work hard enough you will become who you are meant to be. For the most part, we focus on science and advancements in ideology to shape our thinking.
Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long.
We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we are curious…
And curiosity keeps leading us down new paths. -Walt Disney
We are told this through entertainment. Movies and music inspire us to try harder and tell us to make our circumstances shift in a way to make us happy. We love stories of the underdog who pushed through hardships and became a lead innovator in some field. We root for the love story where everyone ends happy and the bad guy gets what he deserves. Our children’s books are filled with characters overcoming obstacles and encourage a compromise so that the book ends well for everyone.
You may be thinking, “Doesn’t everyone think this way?”
There are many cultures who value the past more than the present, and definitely more than the future. That does not mean that innovation does not come, but they are usually much slower to accept change as a good thing. There are other cultures who do not think they have any control over their destiny. They are born into a certain family, and that family dictates what they do. There are even tribal peoples out there who blame technology for negative consequences that follow.
Some of these beliefs that we may see as unusual could be tied to religion, but we cannot say that they are stupid for believing this way. If you were raised that your ancestors held all of the answers and you are to honor them, it would be difficult to move past the past. Think of it this way, when an American says, “learn from the past,” it means to see what all the past did wrong and change that to do more things correctly in the future. However, there are cultures where if you were to say, “learn from the past,” they would assume you meant to see all of the things the people of the past did right and maintain those values and methods.
We are All Learning
I think there is value in both views. I think my favorite example of this is how I approach teaching my children. On the one hand, I love technology. I have so much information at my fingertips to answer my children’s crazy questions, to find a fun new cooking technique for us to learn, or to go deeper than what a book says about something. On the other hand, my children love playing with sticks and rocks. Technology is not their life. Learning about trees is not near as fun without climbing that same tree.
Here is where I want to challenge you! It is not near as fun to read about how your worldview is different from others. Go to an island, talk to a local, and hear what they have to say about the past and their ancestors. Tell them how you view the past, and learn from each other. We have so much opportunity to connect to our fellow humans today, why not take advantage of it!