THE BLOG
01/25/2016 01:00 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2017

Defending New York Values, Moving Forward as a Nation

Several days ago, Ted Cruz accused Donald Trump of having "New York values." In Cruz's vernacular, this was not a compliment. To Cruz's supporters, his comment was code-language akin to describing Trump and New Yorkers as infidels.

Those New Yorkers, you know, they're argumentative, narcissistic, noisy, conspicuous consumers who are dragging down our country. Not as earthy, God-fearing or thoughtful as Cruz's Texans, Evangelical Iowans, or "real conservative" Republicans. This is the thrust of Cruz's accusation against both Trump and New Yorkers.

I have a different point of view.

Seven and eight years ago, Purple America went around the country to nine cities, interviewing 1,000 Americans, to determine the shared values of America. As part of this, my family and I traveled -- video crew in tow -- to New York City. We randomly approached people on the streets of New York -- at Times Square, Rockefeller Center, Yankee Stadium, Wall Street, New York University, East Side, West Side, Uptown, Downtown, at fruit and vegetable stands, airports and other venues.

We approached Blacks, Whites, Asians, Africans, immigrants, business people, non-profit leaders, taxi drivers, evangelical Christians, religious Jews, practicing Muslims, resolute Scientologists, and secular people alike. We spoke to the successful, entrepreneurial, risqué (yes, we did interview the Naked Cowgirl), liberal, and conservative. We spoke to the economically-disadvantaged who proudly described themselves as "not from the hood, but from the ghetto."

We asked them about their values and also what Americans stand for. We discovered that New Yorkers stood for freedom, family, opportunity, love, respect, mutual support, faith, equality and community. We felt welcomed and accepted as we traversed the streets of New York.

We can allow a demagogue like Cruz to speak divisively and derisively about New York values, but in doing so he degrades all of us. The fact of the matter is that New York values are similar to all our values throughout America. Purple America's tour showed me that people on the streets in New York had the same values as people we interviewed in Little Rock, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Williamsport (PA), Punxsutawney (PA), Denver, and Minneapolis/St. Paul.

People in New York -- like elsewhere in our country -- were concerned with family, future, livelihood, security and freedom. They wanted to be respected, have opportunity and be treated fairly. They wanted their children to have a good education and to be good people, whether that was defined by family, faith or community. They wanted to give back to each other.

New Yorkers are extremely friendly and welcoming. Start a conversation, whether on the street or at Yankee Stadium, and New Yorkers will engage you. Get lost and ask for directions and New Yorkers will often escort you to your destination. What's wrong with these values? Frankly, we need more of them in our country.

We did not experience this friendliness and openness in several other communities where we traveled. Midwesterners tout "Midwestern values" as being friendly and welcoming to others, but we didn't experience that in Cleveland or Minneapolis/St. Paul. We did in Atlanta, Little Rock, Williamsport and Punxsutawney.

America can learn a lot of life lessons from New Yorkers, one of which is how to live together in community and diversity. New York is arguably one of the most densely populated cities in the country, yet people are able to work together, build community, and generally get along. New York is a blend of new immigrants, new Americans, legacy Americans, labor unions, big businesses, small businesses, workers, professionals, gays, straights, trans-genders, singles, marrieds, religious, secular, wealthy and poor -- a sampling of the majority of our population and the issues they represent.

Of all issues raised in the presidential campaigns so far, the overriding conundrum that all Americans and our presidential candidates ought to be concerned about -- getting along with each other -- seems to be the most problematic. If we are so different -- as Cruz and others indicate -- how can we ever work together toward common solutions?

The answer is that we cannot, unless we recognize that no one city, community or region holds the corner on values. And, that we're not that different. We all share America's values, and that common bond can help us shape constructive dialogue.

Recently, a political fundraiser said that he would have difficulty raising money for Purple America because we have received financial support from the NEA -- the teachers' union. Others on the education front have decried our receiving financial support from Walmart. Although we have been able to overcome these objections, they are as lame and unproductive as Cruz's comments about New York and its values.

It's time for us to move forward. We must move beyond the labeling, blaming and excluding. We must move to a new paradigm based on civil discourse rooted in our values and similarities. NRA and NEA, business and labor, rich and poor, you and I -- we all deserve a seat at the table and under an expansive and inclusive tent.

America is like a sports team that cannot win in an atmosphere of division and self-interest. We can only tackle hard issues -- economy, economic inequality, racial inequality, immigration, education, freedom and fairness -- if we talk to each other.

As reported by Chris Fedor of The Plain Dealer, David Griffin, general manager of the Cleveland Cavaliers, spoke the other day about the team-building issues that led him to replace his coach. He could have been talking about America:

"What I see is that we need to build a collective spirit, a strength of spirit and a collective will. Elite teams in this league always have that and you see it everywhere.... We have to buy into a set of values and principles that we believe in. That becomes our identity and if we can do that day in and day out, that can become who we are."

If we accept that we share values and concerns -- no matter where we live -- we can learn from each other, forging an identity and way of getting along that works in New York, Dallas and elsewhere. Only then will America move forward like a winning team.

Muszynski is Founder of Purple America, a national initiative of Values-in-Action Foundation to re-focus the American conversation to a civil, productive and respectful dialogue around our shared values. To see America's shared values and get involved, go to www.PurpleAmerica.us. Project Love is a school-based, character-development program of Values-in-Action Foundation. To see information about Project Love school programming, go to www.projectlove.org