In 1998 Tom Brokaw released a book titled The Greatest Generation, that tells us about the generation of Americans who grew up during the Great Depression, and then fought in and/or contributed from the home front, in World War II. Though I haven’t yet read this book, I agree with Mr. Brokaw that this was (and is) a great generation which accomplished much. What stands out most to me is at the core of who these men and women were (and still are for those living today) was a true willingness to make sacrifices and go without, to share and direct resources where they were most needed, and to voluntarily serve one’s country and community for the greater good of all. Sacrifice, sharing, and service – three characteristics best expressed in the life of Jesus Christ.
But, by enduring so much through an era of depression and then war, these men and women from The Greatest Generation didn’t do the rest of us any favors in one aspect – for they vowed that their children and grandchildren “will have it better than I did” – and this declaration, I believe, is where many of our problems today stem from. Though it sounds wonderful in theory, the results have been disastrous, because “better” has erroneously equated to mean “easier,” and as we now see, “easier” doesn’t turn out “better”. For in wanting their children and grandchildren “to have it better than I did,” each succeeding generation has had more and more given to it, with less and less expected from it. Thus, every subsequent generation has received a lesser degree of parenting as well.
Here are four different versions of two verses from The Bible on the topic of parenting:
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it. Proverbs 22:6 (King James Version)
Teach children how they should live, and they will remember it all their life. Proverbs 22:6 (Good News Translation)
Point your kids in the right direction— when they’re old they won’t be lost. Proverbs 22:6 (The Message)
Direct your children onto the right path, and when they are older, they will not leave it. Proverbs 22:6 (New Living Translation)
He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes. Proverbs 13:24 (King James Version)
Those who don’t correct their children hate them. But those who love them are careful to correct them. Proverbs 13:24 (New International Reader’s Version)
If you love your children, you will correct them; if you don’t love them, you won’t correct them. Proverbs 13:24 (Common English Version)
A refusal to correct is a refusal to love; love your children by disciplining them. Proverbs 13:24 (The Message)
Effective parenting requires training, teaching, pointing, and directing; it also includes lots of correction through loving discipline. Unfortunately, when parents decide that their children and grandchildren “will have it better than I did” it often ends up like this:
Not saying “No”, “Don’t”, “Stop It”, “Knock It Off”, “Quit That”, “Cut It Out”, “Wait”, etc…
Giving in to all wants (which soon turn into demands);
Rewarding all “participants” as well as not keeping score to determine the winners and losers in anything;
Excusing inappropriate behavior;
Ignoring a lack of manners;
Foregoing common social courtesies.
As Proverbs 30:15 (The Message) states:
A leech has twin daughters named “Gimme” and “Gimme more.” Three things are never satisfied, no, there are four that never say, “That’s enough, thank you!”— hell, a barren womb, a parched land, a forest fire.
Since WWII, we have produced multiple generations of children who cry out “Gimme” and “Gimme more.” Thus we have millions of spoiled brats and crybabies in our society who have entered into adulthood and run into roadblocks, because they have never had to wait for or work toward anything in their lives, nor have they developed the ability to think and speak intelligently for themselves. Now, as adults, they are unable to discuss and debate important life issues, so instead they call foul, cry victim, and play the “hate” card. They accuse, attack, and attempt to silence those who disagree with them, and continually jump from bandwagon to bandwagon in their support of popular causes endorsed by celebrities and perceived “social victims.”
Compounding this has been the ever increasing divorce rate over past decades, that is now around fifty percent. Think about it – at least half of all men, women, and children in the United States are products of at least one broken family unit, which carries varying levels of emotional and relational baggage. Parenting is difficult enough in homes which have never experienced a divorce, but after divorce occurs everything becomes more complicated for an infinite number of reasons. This isn’t to place blame, just to state the facts of a situation that has greatly contributed to our current state of affairs, as divorce is usually accompanied by things like guilt, fear, confusion, misunderstanding, struggle, bitterness, pain, etc…, and often leads parents to give more and expect less from their children.
Of course, at the root of this is our broken human nature. The more we have handed to us, the less we appreciate it, the less we care about it, and less gratitude we show for it. Getting something for nothing breeds contempt. It produces disrespect for ourselves, as well as for those who give us what we know we don’t deserve and haven’t earned. Deep inside we realize there is something wrong in not having any of our own “skin in the game”, but we are too under-developed and undisciplined to do anything about it.
Having it “better” (easier) has cut short the critical character-building required to produce offspring who are as honest, hardworking, committed, disciplined, and responsible as those from The Greatest Generation were (and are). By having it “better” (easier), most of us have no clear concept of what sacrifice, sharing, and service even mean.
Today, so much of American culture is centered around “self” – self-expression, self-indulgence, self-promotion, self-satisfaction – it’s all Me, Myself, and I (along with my Homies, of course). But what made The Greatest Generation so great was that for a brief period in our history, the notion of “self” was removed, because the survival of our nation demanded it to be that way. Life became an all-encompassing matter of country and community with everyone making sacrifices, sharing resources, and serving in whatever way they could.
How do we get that back? Will it require another depression or recession? Will it take another world war to unite us again? I hope not, but with so much self-interest, self-love, and attention seeking taking place, it will take something significant to wake us up, to shake us up. Perhaps this is why GOD allows us to wallow around in our sin sometimes; why we endure suffering, and experience pain. We need to get to a place where we can actually understand what true mercy, grace, and love really are. Even though The Greatest Generation may never be duplicated, we can certainly turn out Better Generations in our future if we start teaching, training, correcting, and disciplining our children and grandchildren in ways that create greatness, since we are living proof of what doesn’t, since “easier” hasn’t turned out “better”.