Saturday, April 07, 2007

The American concept of freedom and individuality

Focussing on business is an expression of American goal-orientated behaviour. Decisions have to be pragmatic and sometimes the end justifies the means. This attitude can be related to the situation of the first European settlers and colonists. In those days without infrastructure or public institutions, quick decision-making was necessary to get things done and to live a convenient life under difficult conditions.

American so-called superficiality can also be traced back to the time of pioneers, settlers and adventurers who constantly pushed the frontier further west. In a new and unfamiliar environment it was important to make new contacts and to establish a network quickly. This pattern re-occurred every time people moved on to a new place. Therefore, small talk was a necessary means to for building interpersonal relationships. Even today, this mobility and the pursuit of one’s dreams exist in American society. People change jobs, move to other part of the country and start new careers. In this situation, making new friends quickly is as important as in the days of the first settlers.

Individualism and personal freedom are two of the most distinct characteristics of American culture. Again, history offers helpful explanations. Large numbers of European emigrants left their home countries for (religious) liberty, wealth and a better life. The difficult conditions of everyday life meant that the settlers and emigrants had to rely mainly on their own individual skills and judgments to reach their aims. The Declaration of Independence delivers a fine example for individualism by emphasizing the right of "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".

One comment about public transportation and its correlation to American individualism: Having an own car means independence and personal freedom, two attributes that don’t match with a public transportation system. It is therefore neglected, mainly due to reasons of image, convenience and being independent.