Traditional American Values and Beliefs
Individual Freedom and Self-Reliance
By limiting the power of the government and the churches, they created a climate of freedom where the emphasis was on the individual. Individual freedom is probably the most basic of all the American values. By freedom, Americans mean the desire and the ability of all individuals to control their own destiny without outside interference from the government, a ruling noble class, the church, or any other organized authority.
There is, however, a price to be paid for this individual freedom: self-reliance. Individuals must learn to rely on themselves or risk losing freedom. This means achieving both financial and emotional independence from their parents as early as possible, usually by age 18 or 21. It means that Americans believe they should take care of themselves, solve their own problems, and "stand on their own two feet." They think:
They owe nothing to any man, they expect nothing from any man; they acquire the habit of always considering themselves as standing alone, and they are apt to imagine that their whole destiny is in their own hands.
This strong belief in self-reliance continues today as a traditional basic American value. It is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of the American character to understand, but it is profoundly important. Most Americans believe that they must be self-reliant in order to keep their freedom. If they rely too much on the support of their families or the government or any organization, they may lose some of their freedom to do what they want.
If people are dependent, they risk losing freedom as well as the respect of their peers. Even if they are not truly self-reliant, most Americans believe they must at least appear to be so. In order to be in the mainstream of American life — to have power and/or respect — individuals must be seen as self-reliant. Although receiving financial support from...