Family Treasures: What prized item tells your family’s story?

This entry is part 1 of 4 in the series Family Treasures
Family Treasures exercise in a United America discussion series

Just some of the “Family Treasures” we’ve seen in groups discussing “United America.” Click on the photo to see the free activity guide that explains this exercise. You’ll enjoy sharing this idea with friends!

As Americans, we share more than divides us. That’s the message of United America, and the four activity guides that give groups sure-fire ideas to explore the core values that unite us. Last week, we introduced Taste of Home, a group exercise that invites participants to tell family stories behind food traditions.

This week, we introduce Family Treasures, an activity groups are using with the United America book to connect the importance of the 10 core values to family stories about … treasures.

Using the word “treasures” is likely to spark thoughts of treasure hunting. Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island has been re-made more than three dozen times for radio, TV and movie theaters. PBS’s Antiques Roadshow has been a hit since 1979 because it suggests that anyone might have a valuable treasure gathering dust at home. The idea of finding hidden treasure shows up in stories from the world’s oldest sacred literature—and it fuels customers for state-run lotteries around the world, today.

Along with the American Images and Taste of Home guides, this Family Treasures activity often summons deep emotion. Group leaders have told us about total strangers who have bonded over stories of objects as simple as a grandfather’s “dog tags” or a grandmother’s candy dish, a hard-earned Boy Scout award or a piece of embroidery created with a mentor, a work-worn hammer from an old tool chest or even a seasoned cast-iron fry pan.

We have seen truly precious objects: jewelry, rare stamps, an antique Persian carpet and even a 100-year-old baseball card. And we have heard stories with great emotion spun around objects no one else would even recognize: a chunk of copper ore from a mine or an iron handle from an old wood-burning stove.

This exercise invites surprises!

This week in OurValues.org, we’re going to share some of our favorite stories. So, stay tuned for the next four parts in this five-part series. Perhaps these stories will help you to ponder the stories behind objects in your home.

Perhaps you’ll want to share this series with friends. Now is a perfect time to build interest in starting a discussion series on United America.

Your story is important!

The purpose of the OurValues Project and the United America book is to get Americans talking with each other—friends, neighbors and even total strangers who may enjoy gathering to talk about the values that unite us. That’s a dramatic and refreshing change for a lot of us, these days.

Please, share this week’s series with friends on Facebook or by Email. You’re also free to print out these columns and use them in  your small group to spark discussion. If you have a moment right now, add a comment below.

You can play an important role in building a healthier community.

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Categories: American SymbolsJustice and FairnessRespectSecuritySelf-Reliance

Family Treasures: What’s the significance of an Eagle Scout badge?

This entry is part 2 of 4 in the series Family Treasures
Jim Jeffries talks to the group about the values symbolized in his Eagle Scout badge.

Jim Jeffries talks to the group about the values symbolized in his Eagle Scout badge.

Jim Jeffries talks about his Eagle Scout BadgeAll of us have objects in our lives that convey meaning and significance. These objects tell stories about our values and how we acquired them. The stories remind us that values are not abstractions, but emotionally invested principles that shape our lives.

So, what values are conveyed in an Eagle Scout badge?

This week, OurValues is publishing a five-part series about a new activity guide for United America called Family Treasures. That free guide explains how to organize this experience for your class or small group. In this OurValues series of columns, we’re sharing some of our favorite stories participants have told us. Please, feel free to share this week’s stories with friends. The best way to start your own series is to show others these examples of what you might discover in your community.

In this Family Treasures exercise, leaders ask each person to bring a physical object that conveys their values and how they acquired them growing up. At this point, we’ve heard many fascinating stories that have surfaced in classes and small groups. The stories are a mixture of love, poignancy, joy, sadness, hope, and resilience amidst trials and tribulations. Nearly all of them are inspirational.

One of our favorites was told by Jim Jeffries who showed the group his Eagle Scout badge.

First, a little background: Eagle Scout is the highest attainable rank in the Boy Scouts of America. The requirements are arduous, and all must be completed before the boy turns 18 years of age. The requirements, according to the BSA site, include “merit badges, service project, active participation, Scout spirit, position of responsibility, and unit leader conference.” Only about 5% of Boy Scouts become Eagle Scouts.

Leaders in many fields of American life proudly list, among their accomplishments, having earned the badge, including more than 40 U.S. astronauts, outgoing New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and filmmaker Steven Spielberg.

What values does an Eagle Scout learn? There are many. Here’s Jim’s story: He was a Boy Scout in Maryland, where they stressed camping and backpacking. “When you start as an 11 year old, and do all that stuff,” Jim said, “it really gives you a sense of independence and self-confidence.”

When he was a young teen, Jim and friends would take some significant backpacking trips to the White Mountains. “You really learn a lot when you throw a 50-pound pack on your back and you start walking through the woods for a week and you come out on the other end. You can get hurt out there if you are not careful, so it really teaches you a lot of things.”

I recall hiking (and surviving) the Franconia Ridge Trail in the White Mountains, and I know what Jim is talking about.

So, for Jim, his Eagle Badge represents the core American values of self-reliance and achievement.

This week, I am asking all readers of OurValues:

What object in your life tells a story about your values?

Share your story!

The purpose of the OurValues Project and the United America book is to get Americans talking with each other—friends, neighbors and even total strangers who may enjoy gathering to talk about the values that unite us. That’s a dramatic and refreshing change for a lot of us, these days.

Please, share this week’s series with friends on Facebook or by Email. You’re also free to print out these columns and use them in your small group to spark discussion. If you have a moment right now, add a comment below.

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Categories: American SymbolsGetting AheadSelf-RelianceSymbolic Patriotism

Family Treasures: How much value is there in your paycheck?

This entry is part 3 of 4 in the series Family Treasures

Kathy Macdonald family display is shared by Our Values groupValues come to life when we tell the stories behind the values. This week, I am sharing family stories men and women have been telling in groups discussing the book, United America.

Millions of small groups meet each week across America. Some are classes. Some are adult discussion groups. Often, these groups are organized around questions the teacher asks participants. In several of the activities we describe in United America’s resource page, participants are invited to tell stories.

Why bother to share personal stories in a group?

As we hear family stories—we understand the importance of our values in new ways. Often, there are objects connected to these family stories—objects that may be big or small, mundane or rare. The more important the value and the family story—the more precious the object becomes.

Today, we consider a common form of money—a paycheck, which conveys priceless meaning.

Kathy MacDonald, a participant in our discussion session this week on values, brought in both a paycheck and a chunk of copper ore—and told us a story from 1910.

The ore was mined by her grandfather, and the paycheck was his, as well. All her grandparents lived in mining communities in Cornwall, England, and brought their skills to upper Michigan. The check was for $58.60, which was probably a month’s wage.

“There’s lots of history around it,” said Kathy. “Like many others, they understood machinery. It was only a few years after this that Ford began paying outrageous wages in the Detroit area, so they came down to work at Ford’s factory. It was the beginning of their second life.”

Kathy’s father was born in 1917, but only a few years later, his mother perished in a great flu epidemic. So, Kathy said, these objects represent “lots of bits of American history woven into them.”

What does a paycheck signify, today?

What object tells a story of your values and how you got them?

Your story is important

Please, share this week’s series with friends on Facebook or by Email. You’re also free to print out these columns and use them in your small group to spark discussion. If you have a moment right now, add a comment below.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Family Treasures: Missing photographs, missing memories?

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series Family Treasures

Jennifer Pollard with photo of her great grandmotherAmericans today are the most photographed people in history. Smartphones and Facebook make it easy to capture daily images of our lives and share them. Go back a generation or two, however, and photographs are rare. Many are missing, representing gaps in the stories of our families.

Do you have a photographic gap in yours?

Here’s a story of one such gap: Jennifer Pollard’s family is from Barbados, the tiny island nation just north of South America. Jennifer participated in our recent group discussion on objects and the values they signify. She showed a photograph of her Great Grandmother Cecelia. This photo is a valuable object. But the missing photograph is one of her Uncle Arlington, one of her Great Grandmother’s 11 children. Seven immigrated to America, and her uncle was the first. As Jennifer told us, “He came through Ellis Island, and he started a dry cleaning business in New York.”

As she told her story, she reflected that the activity of sharing such valuable objects can be difficult. “You realize how many gaps you have about your family,” she said. “I did meet my Uncle Arlington and some of his siblings—but my regret is that I didn’t get to know them more and to meet those whom I didn’t get to meet. I wish that they had lived longer so I would have been able to learn more about them. … A part of me is missing because I don’t have a decent knowledge of my great aunts and great uncle.”

Arlington’s story is a classic immigrant story of people coming here to make a better life for themselves and their families. His example illustrates the values of achievement, hard work, and enterprise.

Do you have a story like Jennifer’s?

Is there a gap in your family knowledge?

What object would you use to tell the story of your values and how you got them?

Your story matters!

Please, share this week’s series with friends on Facebook or by Email. You’re also free to print out these columns and use them in your small group to spark discussion. If you have a moment right now, add a comment below.

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Categories: Equal OpportunitiesFreedomGetting Ahead