Americans cherish their celebration of Thanksgiving as an annual reminder of their origin. Without meaning to downplay the fun of backyard football or the treat that is the banquet itself, the soul of the occasion is the gathering of family members too often absent from the table and from the heart. All are part of a uniquely American experience.
As the holiday season unfolds, probing questions about paramount values naturally arise, such as, “What makes life meaningful?” A new Pew Research Center survey found the prevailing answer: family – and not solely in the United States, but predominantly among 17 advanced economies around the world.
From a list of factors lending meaning to life, family and children are cited by 38 percent of respondents from nations that include France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Singapore and Japan. Occupation and career are listed by 25 percent, followed by material well-being, cited by 19 percent.
The United States shares its close embrace of family with nearly all surveyed nations. Americans rank friends a close second, a view shared only by Britons. And while material well-being earns third place on this side of the Atlantic, hobbies trump treasures on the other side.
In contrast, Spaniards say they derive exceptional meaning in life from health; family only rates as their fourth choice. Even further from the norm, South Koreans value material well-being above all and rank family in the No. 3 position.
Conventional wisdom assumes that both Americans and the British place a high value on freedom as a birthright bequeathed by their long-standing democratic traditions. Surprisingly, only the Taiwanese and South Koreans bother to include freedom among their top four sources of meaning. Peoples long steeped in liberty, it seems, are prone to take the privilege for granted. And for those living with the perpetual fear of oppression, freedom is never far from their thoughts.
Americans stand alone in finding deep meaning in faith. Even so, the value they place on belief takes a backseat to family, friends, material well-being and occupation. Of course, these assets might never have become so poignant were it not for the faith of forebears who, long ago, answered a divine call to found a New World.
It can be said, then, that family is inscribed in the American heart, and its meaning is enhanced by faith and freedom. That’s why The Washington Times has made “Freedom, faith and family” its abiding motto throughout its 40-year existence.
In an era when these values are sometimes forgotten, words from a poem titled “The Present Crisis,” by 19th-century poet James Russell Lowell, serve as a reminder that beyond the enticing provisions of America’s Thanksgiving table unfolds an unfinished Providence:
Truth forever on the scaffold, Wrong forever on the throne,
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and, behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above his own.
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