Do Americans have anymorals? That's a good question. Manypeople insist that ideas about right and wrong are merely personal opinions. Somevoices,though,arecalling Americans back to traditional moralvalues. WilliamJ.Bennett,former U.S.Secretary of Education,edited The Book of Virtues in 1993 to do just that Bennett suggests that great moral stories can buildcharacter.The success of Bennett's book shows that many Americans still believe in moralvalues. But what are they?
To beginwith,moralvalues inAmericaare like those in anyculture. In fact,many aspects of morality areuniversal. Butthe stories and traditions that teach them are unique to eachculture. Notonlythat,but culture influences how people show these virtues.
One of the most basic moral values for Americans is honesty. Thewell-known legend about George Washington and the cherry tree teaches this value clearly. Little George cut down his father's favorite cherry tree while trying out his new hatchet. When his father asked him aboutit,Georgesaid, "I can not tell alie. I did it with my hatchet. "In stead of punishment,George received praise for telling the truth. Sometimes American honesty-being open and direct-can offend people. But Americans still believe that "honesty is the best policy."
Another virtue Americans respect is perseverance. RememberAesop's fable about the turtle and the rabbit that had arace? The rabbit thought he could win easily, so he took a nap. But the turtle finally won because he did not giveup. Another story tells of a little train that had to climb a steephill.The hill was so steep that the little train had a hard time trying to get over it. Butthe train just kept pulling, all the while saying, "I think Ican,I think I can." At last,the train was over the top of the hill." I thought I could,I thought I could," chugged the happy little train.
Compassion may be the queen of American virtues. The story of "The GoodSamaritan" from the Bible describes a man who showed compassion. On his way to a certain city,a Samaritan man found a poor traveler lying on theroad. The traveler had been beaten and robbed. The kind Samaritan,instead of just passingby,stopped to help this person inneed. Compassion can even turn into a positivecycle. In fall 1992,people in Iowa sent truckloads of water to help Floridians hit by ahurricane. The next summer,during the Midwestflooding,Florida returned the favor. In less dramatic ways,millionsof Americans are quietly passing along the kindnesses shown to them.
In no way can this brief description cover all the moral values honored by Americans. Courage,responsibility,loyalty,gratitude and many others could be discussed. In fact,Bennett's bestseller-over 800pages-highlights just 10 virtues. Even Bennett admits that he has only scratched the surface. But no matter how long or short the list,moralvalues are invaluable. They are the foundation of American culture-and any culture.