As I have done for the past 25 years, I delivered to my family a “Thanksgiving Day Address,” which this year focused on “The Content of America’s Character.” America’s character animates our moral fiber, core convictions, and enduring values, inspiring us to do the right thing.
In my address I identified 10 qualities that define America’s character:
Exceptionalism: A sense of our own exceptionalism embodied in Ronald Reagan’s image of “the shining city upon a hill.”
Idealistic: Reverence for the lofty ideals enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, notably the inspirational creed, “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Fair and just: Codified in the U.S. Constitution, a love of liberty balanced with a respect for the law, with checks and balances to achieve equilibrium.
Compassionate: Compassion and respect for “the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Tolerant: Inclusiveness expressed in the motto E Pluribus Unum, denoting a great melting pot where each wave of new arrivals is melded into unhyphenated Americanism.
Optimistic: Confidence in America’s ever-rising greatness in terms of economic strength, military power and moral authority.
Self-reliant: A pioneering spirit, a self-reliant attitude and a can-do outlook, reinforcing America as the land of opportunity where the American Dream is for the taking.
Competitive: An appreciation for competition and an admiration for winners who, through risk-taking and hard work, rise to the top.
Ethical: A set of ethics attained mainly through religious affiliations that underscores “the Golden Rule” and the core values of honesty, decency and integrity.
Charitable: Rather than relying on the government, giving back generously as individuals to those suffering from economic hardships, natural disasters and terrorist attacks.
Over the course of two and a half centuries the American character has enabled us to move beyond fear and division towards creating a “more perfect union.” Today, however, our darker forces seem to be holding sway over our nobler intentions. Provoked by corrosive political battles, notably the recent Supreme Court confirmation process and the mid-term elections, our nation’s character is being severely tested. The divisive persona and the hardline policies of President Donald Trump have stoked some of our worst demons. Increasingly, America is no longer being seen as a fair and just society from within, nor as a trustworthy ally from afar.
Over the course of the next year, Directors & Boards will be examining character from the perspective of the corporation. Corporate character embodies purpose, culture, and values. Some of our Editorial Advisory Board, in particular Indra Nooyi, are weighing in on this theme. Our advisory board has been refreshed with some new members joining our old stalwarts. I welcome them all, and look forward to their guidance on how to enhance the content of a corporation’s character.