In the age of information and constant change, it’s easy to forget the values that once defined American society. These values—often considered the bedrock of the nation’s identity—have been evolving, shifting, or even disappearing over time. To embark on a journey through this transformation, we’ll explore 51 lost values on our “milk cartons” and ponder John Nieman’s thought-provoking question: What Is Missing?

The Winds of Change

The past few decades have witnessed significant changes in American society, reshaping the very fabric of its culture, politics, and everyday life.

Economic Realities

The American dream, once symbolizing boundless opportunity and prosperity, has taken a hit. Income inequality has grown, leaving a vast segment of the population struggling to achieve financial stability. The security of well-paying jobs with benefits has dwindled, and the cost of education and healthcare has soared.

Technological Advancements

The proliferation of technology has connected us globally but distanced us personally. The digital era, marked by smartphones and social media, has reshaped our interactions. The age-old art of face-to-face conversation is fading as we bury our heads in screens, seeking validation through likes and shares.

Social and Cultural Shifts

Social justice movements, like Black Lives Matter and #MeToo, have challenged long-held norms and inequalities, sparking important conversations. However, these same movements have also revealed deep divides in American society, with polarized viewpoints often drowning out common ground.

John Nieman’s Question: “What Is Missing?”

Amid these profound shifts, John Nieman‘s question rings loud and clear: What Is Missing? It beckons us to ponder the values that might have been lost or obscured on our journey through these turbulent times.

Exploring the Lost Values on Our Milk Cartons

Let’s explore the 51 lost values represented by the images on imaginary milk cartons and consider their place in contemporary American society.

The Lost Values on Display

Each of the 51 milk cartons in Nieman’s collection highlights a specific value that has either diminished or transformed over time. These values encompass a wide range of social, cultural, and moral ideals that have played a significant role in shaping American society.

  1. Truth

In an era characterized by misinformation and “fake news,” the value of truth has taken a hit. Nieman’s milk carton artwork challenges us to reflect on the importance of honesty and transparency in our society.

  1. Empathy

Empathy, the ability to understand and share the feelings of others, is another value that has become increasingly elusive. Nieman’s project reminds us of the necessity of compassion and connection in a world often marked by division.

  1. Tolerance

The milk carton bearing the value of tolerance speaks to the importance of accepting and respecting those with different beliefs, backgrounds, and identities.

  1. Compassion

As we navigate the challenges of the modern world, the value of compassion often seems overshadowed. Nieman’s artwork prompts us to rekindle our empathy and kindness.

  1. Justice

The milk carton depicting justice encourages us to reflect on the state of our legal system, the pursuit of fairness, and the fight against inequality.

  1. Unity

In a society seemingly divided along political, social, and cultural lines, the value of unity has never been more vital. Nieman’s project urges us to seek common ground and come together.

  1. Honor

The concept of honor has evolved over time, but it remains a fundamental value worth exploring in today’s world.

  1. Patience

In our fast-paced, technology-driven world, the virtue of patience can sometimes feel like a relic of the past. Nieman’s artwork invites us to rediscover the value of waiting, persistence, and delayed gratification.

  1. Integrity

The milk carton highlighting integrity encourages us to reflect on the importance of moral and ethical principles in our actions and decisions.

  1. Gratitude

In the pursuit of more, we often forget to appreciate what we have. Nieman’s project reminds us of the value of gratitude and the power of counting our blessings.

  1. Generosity

In a society driven by consumerism, the milk carton bearing the value of generosity prompts us to consider the significance of giving to others.

  1. Wisdom

The value of wisdom encompasses the knowledge and experience gained over a lifetime. Nieman’s artwork encourages us to honor and seek the wisdom of our elders.

  1. Courage

In times of uncertainty and fear, the value of courage becomes paramount. Nieman’s project asks us to summon our inner strength and face adversity head-on.

  1. Hope

The milk carton symbolizing hope reminds us of the importance of optimism, even in the face of despair.

  1. Respect

Respect, both for ourselves and for others, is a cornerstone of a harmonious society. Nieman’s artwork encourages us to reevaluate our interactions and attitudes.

  1. Responsibility

The milk carton representing responsibility prompts us to consider our duty to society, the environment, and future generations.

  1. Honesty

The value of honesty extends beyond truthfulness; it encompasses sincerity and integrity in all our actions.

  1. Forgiveness

In a world marked by conflict and resentment, the value of forgiveness is a powerful force for healing and reconciliation.

  1. Determination

The milk carton bearing the value of determination encourages us to persevere in the face of adversity and work tirelessly towards our goals.

  1. Selflessness

In a culture often focused on self-promotion and individualism, the value of selflessness reminds us of the importance of altruism and putting others before ourselves.

  1. Civility

In an age of incivility and polarization, the milk carton representing civility calls us to practice courtesy and respect in our interactions.

  1. Kindness

Kindness, both to ourselves and to others, is a value that has the power to transform lives and communities.

  1. Humility

In a world obsessed with self-promotion, the value of humility encourages us to embrace modesty and acknowledge our limitations.

  1. Resilience

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity and grow stronger through life’s challenges. Nieman’s project prompts us to reflect on this vital value.

  1. Curiosity

The value of curiosity encourages us to remain inquisitive, open-minded, and eager to explore the world around us.

  1. Accountability

The milk carton bearing the value of accountability reminds us of our responsibility to take ownership of our actions and their consequences.

  1. Flexibility

In a rapidly changing world, the value of flexibility encourages us to adapt to new circumstances and embrace change.

  1. Balance

The value of balance reminds us of the importance of equilibrium in our lives, whether it’s between work and leisure, ambition and contentment, or individualism and community.

  1. Serenity

Serenity, the state of inner peace and calm, is a value that can help us navigate the storms of life with grace and composure.

  1. Authenticity

The value of authenticity prompts us to be true to ourselves and to others, embracing our uniqueness without pretense.

  1. Unity in Diversity

In an increasingly diverse society, the value of unity in diversity celebrates the richness of different backgrounds, cultures, and perspectives.

  1. Cooperation

The milk carton representing cooperation encourages us to work together for the common good, transcending individual interests.

  1. Contentment

In a world driven by the pursuit of more, the value of contentment encourages us to find joy in simplicity and gratitude.

  1. Perseverance

The value of perseverance speaks to the power of determination and resilience in achieving our goals.

  1. Acceptance

Acceptance, both of ourselves and of others, is a value that fosters empathy and compassion.

  1. Adaptability

The value of adaptability encourages us to embrace change and thrive in dynamic environments.

  1. Transparency

In a world marked by secrecy and misinformation, the value of transparency calls for openness and accountability in our institutions and leaders.

  1. Connection

The milk carton highlighting connection reminds us of the importance of building meaningful relationships and fostering a sense of belonging.

  1. Family

Family, the cornerstone of society, is a value that encourages us to prioritize the bonds that unite us with loved ones.

  1. Responsibility to Nature

In an era of environmental challenges, the value of responsibility to nature urges us to protect and preserve the planet for future generations.

  1. Freedom

Freedom, a cherished American value, prompts us to reflect on the rights and liberties that define our democracy.

  1. Education

The milk carton representing education celebrates the value of knowledge and lifelong learning.

  1. Community

The value of community reminds us of the strength that comes from supporting one another and working together for common goals.

  1. Justice

Justice, a cornerstone of society, encourages us to uphold fairness, equality, and the rule of law.

  1. Love

The value of love encompasses the profound connections and emotions that bind us to one another.

  1. Leadership

The milk carton bearing the value of leadership encourages us to inspire and guide others towards positive change.

  1. Innovation

Innovation, the driving force of progress, prompts us to embrace creativity and adaptability in our endeavors.

  1. Accountability to Future Generations

The value of accountability to future generations calls us to consider the impact of our actions on those who will inherit the world we leave behind.

  1. Decency

Decency, a timeless value, encourages us to prioritize moral and ethical principles in our interactions.

  1. Responsibility to History

The milk carton highlighting responsibility to history reminds us of the importance of preserving our cultural heritage and learning from the past.

  1. Joy

The value of joy speaks to the importance of finding moments of happiness and delight in our lives.

Rediscovering Lost Values

As we reflect on these 51 lost values, it’s clear that America’s transformation over the past two decades has not been without its losses. However, the search for what is missing offers a roadmap to rediscovery.

Rebuilding Community Bonds

Investing time in local communities and fostering neighborly relations can reignite the sense of community.

Nurturing Empathy and Kindness

Promoting empathy and kindness in daily interactions can bridge divides and foster a more inclusive society.

Environmental Responsibility

Taking small steps, like reducing waste and supporting eco-friendly initiatives, can make a big difference in environmental stewardship.

Celebrating Diversity

Recognizing and appreciating cultural diversity can lead to a more inclusive and harmonious society.

Engaging in Civil Discourse

Encouraging respectful, informed discussions on important issues can rebuild the foundation of public discourse.

Supporting the Next Generation

Mentoring and supporting younger generations can ensure the passing down of values and traditions.


The evolution of American society over the last twenty years has brought both progress and change. In pondering John Nieman’s question, What Is Missing? we’ve unearthed 51 lost values that have contributed to this transformation.

While some values may have been obscured or altered, they are not lost forever. Through intentional efforts to rebuild community bonds, nurture empathy and kindness, and embrace environmental responsibility, America can rediscover its core values and forge a brighter future. The journey towards rediscovering these lost values is a collective endeavor, one that will shape the America of tomorrow.