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The Wisdom of the Older Generation - Living Through War

The current state of our world is deeply worrying. However, there is wisdom from earlier generations that can help.


Here are some tips from the people who lived through the Second World War.


The period from 3 September 1939 to 15 August 1945 was arguably more challenging to those who lived through it than anything you or I have known. The Second World War was truly global in its reach, and deeply affected the lives of ordinary people. From my work as a celebrant, officiating at the funerals of those who lived through the War, I’ve noticed certain patterns of behaviour that, I think, might really help us today.


What follows is a distillation of the wisdom I’ve observed in the lives of those who showed resilience in the face of terror and went on to shape their families with a positive and life-enhancing legacy:


  1. They fought for their loved ones and their friends. However much the powers that be may have spoken about service to King and Country, most people, combatants and civilians, focused on the defence of their loved ones and their friends. They were clear about who their ‘tribe’ was and they were equally clear about how their duty to that tribe was a function of their own self-worth.

  2. They tried, where possible, to worry only about those things they could control, but then set about those things with determination and resolve.

  3. From food to consumer goods, they kept life simple. Rationing meant that over-eating or the accumulation of needless ‘stuff’ wasn’t an option. As a result, the population, as a whole, was healthier in body and mind. This is, of course, not to deny that there were psychological casualties of hourly terror, but, on the whole, the psychological challenges were simpler than we often make them today.

  4. They were reticent in over-stating the drama of their situation. Today, we spend a lot of time over-sharing. We do it to friends, colleagues and, through social media, to the world in general. This was not their way. The wise ones reflected on their experience and maybe did so with close friends, relatives, or perhaps a friendly priest or GP, but they didn’t splurge their every heartbeat on Facebook.


In an age of 24/7 rolling news and "heart-on-the-sleeve" reality TV and social media, it’s refreshing to hear the ways in which those who were able to cope with the existential threat of war did so in inspiring ways that are absolutely within our own grasp today. We can easily dismiss ideas of duty, fortitude, stoicism and quiet courage, but when I listen to the children of this amazing generation celebrate the lives of their parents, it is those very values that leave a powerful and character-building legacy.


Such an attitude is exactly what is needed in the face of despots and terror-mongors. It was then and it is now.

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