Robert Bellah

Habits of the heart: Individualism and Commitment in American life

Berkeley: University of California Press. 1985.


THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

Brian Palmer

Living well is a challenge. Brian Palmer, a successful businessman, lives in a comfortable San Jose suburb and works as a top-level manager in a large corporation. He is justifiably proud of his rapid rise in the corporation, but he is even prouder of the profound change he has made recently in his idea of success. "My value system," he says, "has changed a little bit as the result of a divorce and reexamining life values. Two years ago, confronted with the work load I have right now, I would stay in the office and work until midnight, come home, go to bed, get up at six, and go back and work until midnight, until such time as it got done. Now I just kind of flip the bird and walk out. My family life is more important to me than, and the work will wait. I have learned." A new marriage and houseful of children have become the center of Brian"s life. But such values were won only after painful difficulties. [this is followed by an expansion of Palmer"s story] (p. 3 -- first page of book)

"I found that being a single parent is not all that it is cracked up to be. I found it an extremely humbling experience. Whereas I go into the office in the morning and I have a personal secretary and a staff of managers and a cast of hundreds working for me, I came home and just like every Tom, Dick, and Harry in the world, I"d clean up garbage after these big boys of mine. I"d spend two hours preparing and cleaning after dinner, doing laundry, folding clothes, sweeping the floor, and generally doing manual labor of the lowest form. But the fact that my boys chose to live with me was a very important thing to me. It made me feel that maybe I had been doing something right in the parenting department." [this is followed by a further expansion of Palmer"s story] (p. 4)

Brian"s restless energy, love of challenges, and appreciation of the good life are characteristic of much that is most vital in American culture. [end of Palmer"s story followed by the story of Joe Gorman, the story of Margaret Oldham, the story of Wayne Bauer] (pp. 6-20)

Brian, Joe Margaret, and Wayne each represent American voices familiar to us all. The arguments that we have suggested would take place among them, if they ever met, would be versions of controversies that regularly arise in public and private moral discourse in the United States. One of the reasons for these differences is that they draw from different traditions, which will be described in the next chapter. Yet beneath the sharp disagreements, there is more than a little consensus about the relationship between the individual and society, between private and public good. This is because, in spite of their differences, they all to some degree share a common moral vocabulary, which we propose to call the "first language" of American individualism in contrast to alternative "second languages," which most of us also have. (p. 20)

Sunday, March 10, 2002