Securing The Legacy Of The Greatest Generation – Part Two
YESTERDAY’S SUPERIOR VALUES
In Part One of this series, I pointed out a number of values that were commonly held in the heyday of the Greatest Generation, values that are significantly different from (and I think vastly superior to) our related values today. My purpose in doing that was to explore how America would benefit through reacquiring those once-common values and applying them to our present-day challenges. With that in mind, in this article, I want to more specifically try to answer the question, “What are the problems facing us today that can be addressed in this way?” Once I’ve examined the “What?” question here, in future articles I intend to take up the question of “How?”.
TODAY’S DAUNTING CHALLENGES
As I’ve considered this “What?” question, it has seemed to me that applying once-common values of the Greatest Generation might offer solutions to a broad range of present-day challenges. However, to illustrate my views on this, I’m going to focus on a single concern. It’s one that’s deeply troubling and in fact, this disturbing matter is the one that got my thinking started on this topic in the first place. It’s School Shootings.
Early last month, there was a shooting at a high school in Gresham, OR, just across the Columbia River from where I live, in Washington State. This tragedy involved a 15-year-old student killing a 14-year-old student, wounding a teacher and then taking his own life. Of course, this got a lot of attention locally but it didn’t seem to receive much notice nationally. Perhaps that was due to the fact that, by comparison to other school shootings, the body count in this occurrence was low. If so, that, in itself, is troubling. Regardless, it was a tragedy and it served as another, closer to home, reminder of this disturbing trend in our community.
BELOW THE SURFACE
Not surprisingly, this tragedy elicited immediate responses from gun control advocates, as well as from 2nd Amendment supporters. On the heels of that came responses from proponents of improving the accessibility of mental health services. Frankly, I think there are valid points made by each of these groups that merit serious consideration. However, I see these topics as surface issues, symptomatic of greater underlying matters – i.e. more foundational concerns indicative of the continued unraveling of America’s social fabric.
Of course, that view begs the question, “What was it like before this unraveling of our social fabric?” To answer this, I started by looking back and asking myself, “What was different when I was a high school student, when occurrences like these were practically unheard of?” I think the key difference was one of attitude. I described this in Part One as a mindset that, unlike today, meant the average Joe or Jane lived their lives with a true other-oriented sense of community, rather than just being focused on “What’s in it for me? Instead of being self-serving, they were self-reliant. When there was a challenge to be met, they didn’t look to others to provide the solution, they looked to themselves. They were self-supporting individuals who were members of self-supporting families that made up self-supporting communities.
One remaining question then is, “What were the qualities of that time, as a result of that different attitude, making it a time when present-day concerns, like school shootings, we’re nearly nonexistent?” Before answering that question, let me remind you that my recollections aren’t those of a Baby Boomer who was born into an idyllic life of that era. I was the youngest of three children being raised by a single-Mom in a time when that was so rare the phrase “single-Mom” wasn’t yet commonly used. Both my parents, as well as my grandfathers and my uncles, were blue-collar workers. In the home I grew up in, we didn’t think of ourselves as poor but we must have been somewhere in or close to that category. With that understood, let me say, the answer is, “There were many!” I’ve outlined several of the ones that I recall as being most important as follows:
- Children were raised by their families. When they got up in the morning, both Mom and Dad were there to parent them and care for them. When they went off to school, they went with kids from families in the neighborhood who knew each other. Their transportation to and from school was on foot through neighborhoods where a caring adult was present in most homes. Their teachers and other school staff knew the kids and their families. The same was true with extracurricular activities. At the end of the day, there was no warehousing of kids at a “daycare”. Babysitting was an exceptional activity, typically to afford parents a couple of hours to go out to dinner, etc. and even then, the babysitting was usually done by a relative or neighbor who knew the kids well.
- Getting the best education possible, getting the best job possible and working hard to get ahead was the order of the day. People, first, looked to themselves for provision, not to others nor to the government.
- For those who, for one reason or another, weren’t making it on their own, the community tried to pull together to help keep them from “falling through the cracks”. Certainly many of these efforts would be done differently and better today but through private service organizations and through funding public services, the community did the best it could.
- Likewise, you could count on the community to pull together when facing a crisis. Whether it was a kid lost in the woods or a family’s home burned down or a city devastated by tornadoes or a nation threatened by the Axis countries of WWII, all would put their personal aspirations on hold for as long as necessary in order to band together to meet the crisis at hand.
- A common thread running through all this was that the vast majority of the community gave priority to things they recognized as being greater than themselves. One of the most important of these was patriotism. Regardless of any differences, we were Americans first and willingness to sacrifice self for country was prevalent. The most important of these, though, was faith. Weekly attendance at a house of worship was nearly universal and Judeo-Christian values were the foundational qualities of most individual lives, families and communities.
Of course, there were many other qualities of that time that, looking back, I could point to as contributing to making it a time when many present-day concerns were nonexistent. Hopefully, though, the examples I’ve noted above provide a sufficient sense of the nature of what I refer to as our social fabric in that day. If so, the final “What?” question to consider is, “What was the actual impact of those qualities in terms of making our nation not just different but better and in my opinion, more whole.” Well, to answer that I’ll use the old British adage, “The proof of the pudding is in its eating.” If you just look at School Shootings, the single concern I focused on earlier in this article, I think the answer is self-evident. “Back in the day”, there were troubled high school students, guns were available, gun safety was a concern, the right to bear arms was important and mental health services were in need of improvement. And yet, School Shootings were few, if not totally absent. If you don’t agree with my argument that the unraveling of our social fabric is what has led to changes of this nature in our community, I’d love to know what you think the cause is.
If you’re in agreement that America would benefit from repairing our social fabric through reacquiring those once-common Greatest Generation values and applying them to our present-day challenges, the next question is, “How do we go about that?” In Part Three of this series, I will begin to present some of the solutions that I see. But, it’s a broad topic of great importance and I won’t pretend to have all the answers. So, I’m really hoping to hear from you with your views on this.