Student Question

How has America transitioned from being inner-directed to other-directed over the years?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I think that greater specificity is needed in the question.  There certainly is a balance between America being an "inner- directed" nation to an "other- directed" nation.  Yet, there are different elements that guide such a pivot and specifying the years or time period would be essential in this process.  For example, the late 1950s and 1960s represented such a time period where this shift was evident, according to a work entitled The Lonely Crowd:

The book's subject was nothing less than a sea change in American character: as America was moving from a society governed by the imperative of production to a society governed by the imperative of consumption, the character of its upper middle classes was shifting from ''inner-directed'' people who as children formed goals that would guide them in later life to ''other-directed'' people, ''sensitized to the expectations and preferences of others.''

This is one example of how material acquisition and psychological desire converge to change America from an "inner- directed" nation to an "other- directed" one.  Another example would be the post- Vietnam experience of the 1970s.  The magnitude of losses in Vietnam as well as the jaded sensibilities of the time period moved America from an "other- directed" nation in terms of external policy to a more "inner- directed" one in terms of understanding of self.  I think that one can see a similar dynamic in the post- 9.11 setting of the nation in which a desire to be "inner- directed" might have been interrupted by a policy, both domestic and foreign, that sought to find the "they" who did America harm.  There are different contexts in which "inner" and "other" directed notions of American identity are evident and examining the causes of why this shift happens is centrally important in terms of specifying time period and context.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial