Photo Credit - Mark Aylward
People born between 1901 and 1924 were coined the Greatest Generation by famed broadcaster Tom Brokaw. This was a tribute to the Americans who survived World War 1, lived through the Great Depression and then fought in World War 2. This generation was tested like no other since. They demonstrated perseverance and resiliency and changed America for the foreseeable future.
America experienced an economic boom after World War 2. In my opinion, that is where we experienced a shift in strength and grit. The next generation, the Silent Generation who were born between 1925 and 1942, they were the children of the greatest generation and experienced firsthand the hardships of the times.
It was the next generation, the Boom (Baby Boomers) who were born between 1943 to 1960, that is where the shift began. Beginning in the 60’s, we saw a dramatic demand in the use of pharmaceutical pain medication, in particular benzodiazepines, to solve all of life’s issues. The Rolling Stones released a hit song in 1966 called “Mother’s Little Helper.” Here are the lyrics,
What a drag it is getting old
‘Kids are different today,’ I hear ev'ry mother say
Mother needs something today to calm her down
And though she’s not really ill
There's a little yellow pill
She goes running for the shelter of a mother’s little helper.
Benzodiazepines had entered the market a few years prior and soon become popular among American housewives. They temporarily stopped feeling any stress, an emotional pain reliever. The revolution to stop feeling pain had begun.
Here’s the problem, pain is a message. Pain demands attention to do something, fix something. It builds resilience. Avoiding pain and seeking pain relief seem to be beneficial solutions, that makes sense. However, there are consequences. When major life events hit us hard, are we able to withstand it if we have little or no experience handling pain? There wasn’t a World War or Depression to deal with in the 60’s, just normal everyday stress.
If you were born before 1980, chances are you heard your parents tell you to go outside and play and be home before the streetlights came on. That doesn’t happen anymore. The principle here is simple: After 1980 we began raising a generation of kids that were protected like no other. They can't play outside unsupervised because they might be kidnapped. The national case of Adam Walsh put the spotlight on the dangers for our children. We convinced a generation of kids that they can never be too safe. Of course, this was all done with the best of intentions. What are the consequences? These children have experienced a completely different childhood from children born before 1980. They have little or no unsupervised playtime, activities are structured and organized, conflicts are resolved by authority figures. All of this helps avoid pain and discomfort. Everyone gets an award or trophy. No one should be offended. If things start hurting real bad just knock back some poisonous pain medicine and it all goes away.
This is not to suggest that some of these children don’t face pain and discomfort. There’s enough of that in the world. The problem arises if they don’t know how to handle it because society is pushing pain relief and pain avoidance and not resilience
In 1960 we saw a shift to avoid any pain. Twenty years later, in 1980 we saw another shift to safety and prevention. Twenty years later we experienced 9/11 and the dangers became global again and we accepted the loss of some of our freedoms. We gave up our freedom and became comfortable with relinquishing our safety from our parents to our government. That handoff went with little protest because the public was more than happy to let someone else keep us safe. It was something we were told was best left to the professionals.
Another twenty years later, in 2020, we are faced with an invisible enemy. The Corona Virus is a global pandemic and are we prepared to handle it? Have we built up much resiliency from childhood? Listen to people patting themselves on the back because we have weathered weeks in isolation. We can still go to the store and get groceries.
The government is spending trillions, yes trillions of dollars on pain relief caused by being without. The money is meant to ease the suffering, weeks of suffering, imagine the horror. I’m like most, I want my pain relief too! The fact we’re doing it doesn’t mean we can or should do it. What is the real price for future generations of our citizens?
Our solution to this pandemic is to hide in our homes, wear masks and gloves when we go out. Fear has gripped the United States and the rest of the world. Once again, the authorities swoop in to take care of us.
Most of the Greatest Generation is gone and their children are older and the most vulnerable to this deadly disease. Each generation since has been more coddled and become softer. Winston Churchill said, “Fear is a reaction. Courage is a decision.” The world is gripped by fear right now. It’s time to switch to courage.
How would the greatest generation handle the Corona virus if it happened to them? In fact, they had a similar virus. In 1918 the world was hit with the Spanish flu pandemic, the deadliest in history. This is around the time the greatest generation were beginning their lives. The Spanish flu infected approximately 500 million people around the world, about one-third of the planet’s population. An estimated 20 million to 50 million people died, including some 675,000 Americans. Is it any wonder why these amazingly resilient people earned the reputation as the greatest generation?
The corona virus is an unprecedented event in the last 100 years. How will we respond? Perhaps this is an opportunity to battle test the coddled generations, build some resiliency. As the saying goes, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
I believe this virus will change us, make us stronger. I believe the human spirit is alive and strong. The greatest generation stepped up many, many times and they passed on those genes to us. It’s our time to step up and make the world a better place.
And there it is!