generation characteristics

Greatest Generation Characteristics and What You Can Learn

Tom Brokaw’s 1998 book declared the generation that persevered through America’s Great Depression and fought in World War II America’s “Greatest Generation.” What were the generation characteristics of these individuals that make them stand out in history? What can we take from that time and translate into our own lives in this vastly different era in American history? The common theme for those among the great generation seems to be self-sacrifice.

We have made tremendous stride since the days of the Greatest Generation, especially regarding civil rights and technology, but we are losing many core values that made this particular American generation worthy of their name. Here are 5 things we can learn from them to help strengthen today’s society.

1. Personal Responsibility

We live in the age of blame. If we can’t find someone at fault for our trials, we will just invent something. It is a terribly destructive pattern not only for personal growth, but to the national health of the entire country. To be given responsibility is an honor and was seen as such during that time. Great lessons of leadership always start with a deep sense of personal responsibility.

2. Humility

In that day, there was an expected norm of dignity and modesty. Society held itself to a higher standard, and humility was at the heart of that. Our overall behavior norm today could benefit greatly by taking a cue from those before us and humbling our hearts accordingly.

3. Work Ethic

One of the hardest things for a parent to instill in a child today is a hard work ethic. At that time, of course, work was not an option. Everyone worked to survive, both personally and as a country. They took deep pride in that work as well. Thankfully we are not in a world war today, and technology has lightened the load on citizens to keep the country prosperous and safe. But I believe idle hands has led to complacency and entitlement.

4. Prudent Saving

In the 30’s and 40’s, everything was saved down to the last penny and the last green bean. To be frugal was the discipline of the day. In the 21st century, we are a consumer-based economy. We fill our lives with one temporary gadget to the next, and it all goes so fast there is no need for a repairman anymore. Just get a new one. Unfortunately, this type of thinking has led to a great deal of personal financial stress in this century. Need more help teaching your children about money?

5. Faithful Commitment

Is love enough to sustain a marriage? Does loyalty count or should we constantly be on the lookout for the next green pasture? Is commitment valued in our society and a man’s word still gold? The difference between the Greatest Generation and the generation of today in many ways comes down to those questions. To see a 50th wedding anniversary in 2018 is almost a spectacle, and not a normal milestone moving into advanced age. For a person to work at one job long enough to earn a distinction of time served is now the exception and not the rule.

We are losing many core values that made the Greatest Generation worthy of their name.

When is the last time you shook another man’s hand and truly believed his word was gold? It isn’t that our society is not generous, because we mostly all are. We have achieved great things and have much to be proud of. It is that we are found lacking (as a whole) when we look at who we have become compared to who we were. Perhaps the hard times are a reminder to us of the things that are truly most important and the values we are quickly leaving behind. Values the Greatest Generation embodied.


Huddle up with your kids and ask, “What do you think made the ‘Greatest Generation’ the ‘greatest’ generation?”