Incivility can be fun. It was for Glenn Beck, he recently admitted in a Fox News interview. Looking back on his career at Fox, he apologized for the divisiveness he promoted, wishing that he "could have talked about the uniting principles a little more." Rather than a conservative warrior in the culture wars, he revealed himself to be a culture war profiteer who enriched himself by supplying the conflict. And he's not the only one.
Are there uniting principles? Right now, millions of Americans are hoping we can heal our painful divisions. The good news, after extensive nationwide research, is that Americans share a wide range of core values. This newly released research, which I conducted though the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, shows that Americana have common ground around 10 core values. These values are strongly and widely held across demographic, religious, and political lines.
Rather than continuing to tear our communities apart with angry arguments, our leaders and media personalities could launch a new movement toward civil dialogue starting with these 10 values.
What are the 10? Respect for others -- for people of different faiths, races and ethnicities -- is one of them. Many Americans cite a lack of consideration for others as a big reason for moral decline in America, but the overwhelming majority of Americans put a high premium on respect and kindness.
Americans believe strongly in equal opportunity -- 90 percent of Americans endorse this value. Freedom is another core value. A founding ideal for the United States, freedom is not an abstraction for most Americans, but a value learned early in life.
Americans place a premium on security -- keeping the nation safe and secure from internal and external threats. This value competes with other core values, such as freedom and respect for others, as illustrated by the current controversies about mass electronic surveillance of American citizens.
Self-reliance and individualism is another value that has been part of American national identity since the founding, but it must be balanced with community. Part of that balance comes from another core value -- justice and fairness.
Other core values include getting ahead -- a "moral mandate" in America; the pursuit of happiness; symbolic patriotism, emotional attachment to symbols such as the flag and anthem; and critical patriotism, opposition to American policies by citizens who love the country and want it to live up to its high ideals.
The realities of American society can be at odds with core values. The chances of actually getting ahead, for example, are lower here than they are in several other countries. And, America is a leader in economic inequality, with the gap between rich and poor now at levels not seen since right before the Great Depression.
These 10 values are high ideals and many times we don't live up to them. But failure to achieve these values should not discourage us; rather, it should motivate us to strive even harder to realize them.
After so much anger and so many bitter words, is civil dialogue possible in our Wild West of digital media? The answer, surprisingly, is: Yes! As a social scientist, my research included promoting a daily online dialogue about values and hot-button issues in the news. Since 2008, this OurValues.org project has proven that rich, robust and civil dialogue is possible even on the thorniest issues of the day. The key is starting from an understanding of the core values we share -- rather than starting with the myth that Americans are divided into irreconcilable warring camps.
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