More than 200 years ago, Alexis de Tocqueville, a French tourist, wrote in Democracy in America that Americans shared certain traits and values that were unique in the world. In the 1960s, sociologist Robert Bellah went further, stating that Americans shared an “American Civil Religion” -- a religious-like devotion to a set of values and world views.
Since that time, Americans have felt more and more splintered. In 2007, my family and I decided to find out if America was indeed red and blue, or, in fact, purple – sharing values in common that are part of our American experience and collective DNA. We traveled to eight cities to ask ordinary Americans two fundamental questions: “What are the values that connect us as Americans?” and “What do Americans stand for?”
These interviews in New York, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Williamsport, Atlanta, Little Rock, Denver and Minneapolis/St. Paul are represented in videos. To anyone who watches them, it should be obvious that Americans are more similar than different.
The 12 shared values identified as a result of these interviews started as a larger list of 20 variations on themes that we distilled to these 12 values. We believe these shared values unite America in a common bond and belief system that helps us to define common our ground and cooperate in working to achieve greater good. But the key to our American system is balancing our shared values. Sometimes values can impinge on one another unless balanced by a yet another of the shared values. For example, Community can impinge on another’s Freedom if it is not balanced by Love and Respect. The set of values as a whole points the way. As we debate our nation’s future, it is helpful to consider our opinions, actions and progress through the lens of America’s shared values. Who are we? What do we stand for? How can we be united? How can we get better? How can we work for the greater good? And how are we doing at bringing our shared values into reality? These questions, when addressed as part of a civil, national dialog, have been asked throughout our history. They have helped us to thrive as a nation, end slavery, improve civil liberties, cultivate the American Dream and become the envy of the world. Full realization of all our American values may just be something to which we only aspire, but we believe it is an aspiration worthy of pursuit.
Our History: How Purple America Began