America’s Disastrous Loss of Cultural Identity

By Edward Thal /

The 2016 presidential election has highlighted many disturbing trends in America, not least of which is the fracturing of our nation into warring camps that include special interest groups openly hostile to the cultural values and social principles once woven into a unified national consciousness.

To appreciate the danger to America of our weakening cultural identity we need look no further than the example of organizational culture that is typically evident in any high-performing business. In their classic 1982 book, “Corporate Cultures: The Rites and Rituals of Corporate Life,” Terrence Deal and Allan Kennedy point out that consistently high-performing organizations have strong cultures, while weak or confused cultures waste a good deal of time just trying to figure out what they should do and how they should do it.

Corporate culture provides conceptual maps. The defined culture is the employee’s guide to reality within the organization – the do’s and don’ts, the code of behaviour, the road to success. It is no different with nations and their citizens. Nations, like businesses, are not buildings, budgets, bottom lines or five-year plans (or monuments, laws and regulations). They are human institutions made up of people.

Deal and Kennedy argue that the existence of a corporation lies in the hearts and minds of its people as a cohesion of values, myths, heroes and symbols. They explain that corporate culture is simply “the way we do things here…” It ties people together and gives meaning and purpose to their work. Companies that do best over the long haul are those that believe something. They are human institutions that provide practical meaning for people, both on and off the job.

Destroy the culture – the conceptual map of what it means to be a part of this entity – and the entity itself dies, riven by disunity, confusion and strife. This is true for a corporation or a nation. We see it playing out before our eyes in America today.