Recently I sent a survey to several Silent Generation seniors who are between the ages of 76 and 93. A great deal has been written about their beginnings as a cohort, but my goal was to understand their thoughts and feelings as they pertain to some of the more recent cultural changes in our society.
The Silent Generation is the demographic group after the Greatest Generation (1901 to 1927) and before the baby boomers (1946 to 1964). They were raised during a period of war and economic depression.
Many lost fathers or older siblings who were killed in World War II. Many of the men of the Silent Generation served in the Korean War.
While it’s impossible to say all individuals of a certain generation possess the same qualities, people of a generational cohort often exhibit similar traits based on their shared background and experiences.
People in the Silent Generation, for example, were raised to respect authority and be team players. They are also rule followers.
My parents are part of the Silent Generation. I thought the values they taught me came from their personal beliefs, but as I study this cohort more, I can see many of them emanate from their generation.
One of the questions I asked in my survey was “What traits do you admire in others?”
In order of frequency, the top three responses were kindness, honesty and a strong work ethic. What must our current society look like to this generation?
I recently happened upon a Los Angeles Times article from 26 years ago titled “A Multitude of Meanness: In politics, on talk radio, in society, it is now fashionable to be mean-spirited. Intolerance is the order of the day.”
The occurrence of meanness has only ratcheted up in these intervening years. There’s growing concern about declining levels of civility in our society.
In the U.S. for example, a recent poll found that 75% of those surveyed believe that incivility has risen to crisis levels.
Two years ago, my colleague wrote an article about flu shots for older adults. A few weeks ago, she wrote another article on the same topic, and this time some of the social media comments were nasty and profane.
All of us are allowed our opinions, and I am sure debate over COVID vaccines is fueling conversation about the flu vaccine; however, why can’t discourse be civil?
I was discussing this with my mom, a member of the Silent Generation, and she was appalled by the rudeness and disrespect of some of the commenters.
The second most noted value was honesty. There is a theory that the society we live in can have a direct influence on how dishonest people may be.
Generally, people are surprisingly honest, but studies show that when we are surrounded by others who are breaking the rules, we are more apt to do the same. Headlines point out many acts of dishonesty, including doping in sports, Naval Academy students cheating on tests and politicians misrepresenting facts. It happens so frequently we are not even shocked by it anymore.
My father was an avid cyclist and a big fan of Lance Armstrong. I’m sure before the news about Armstrong using performance enhancing drugs came out, my father would never have thought a man with such career success would have been cheating. His hero did not compete with honesty, and that broke his heart.
The third value is a strong work ethic. I hear comments from members of the Silent Generation questioning the decision of those who chose to stay home and collect unemployment benefits rather than head back to work.
Individual choices to return to work may be driven by the need for child or elder care, or health or safety concerns, but the principle that hard work is its own reward is ingrained in this generation.
The world has certainly changed in the last 70-plus years.
What we were taught by our parents may no longer hold value for later generations, or it may be infinitely more difficult to practice these values in our new world order.
Whatever the case, we could all be reminded that kindness, honesty and a strong work ethic help to make us better human beings.