Wisdom of the Great Depression Generation- Lessons Learned from My Grandparents

Images of Aging by Administration on Aging (AoA)

Public Domain

We often say to listen to the advice of our elders because they have years of wisdom.  Better yet, listen to the advice of our elders of the Great Depression Generation.  They have wisdom beyond their already long lives and there is much we can learn from them.  I recently lost one of my grandparents and last year lost another grandparent.  About 5 years ago I lost another grandparent.  One is still living.  Upon these losses and in mourning it has caused me to reflect on the magnitude of losing them, what they have meant to me, what I have learned from them, how I can continue their legacy and apply what I have learned.  And, how not to take any moment for granted with my living grandparent.  There is so much wisdom in my grandparents.  They are in my opinion of the greatest generation of teachers.  They are the Great Depression Generation.  As I mourn and celebrate them, I am going to share my experiences and what the greatest generation of wisdom educators has taught me.

No Known Restrictions: Child of homesteader, Tygart Valley Homesteads, West Virginia by John Vachon, 1939 (LOC)

Public Domain

Lessons from the grandmother that I just lost:

1.  Life will have many struggles. Fact is, this is just part of life.  Instead of dwelling on the ills of life, laugh at yourself, joke and have a sense of humor.  My golly, “Laugh in the stinky moments of life!”

2.  Life is too short and you don’t know when your time will be, so live.  Have fun, have purpose, have meaning and in all things family comes first.  Even in the headaches, heartaches, and dysfunctions families can cause, family is a deep bond and they need to come first.  But, in putting them first it doesn’t mean let them walk all over you or control you.  Put them first, take care of them, but also take care of yourself and your needs.

3.  Some people truly have 9 lives, or better yet…more!  This grandmother dealt with many physical battles.  She fought, was stubborn and determined to not give up and persevered through horrendous and unimaginable physical pain, complications, and limitations.  But, my golly, “she fought!”  She lived longer than anyone imagined.  She beat many odds.  She was a fighter and survivor.  She really did have 9 lives or more.  She had died and had been revived.  Through her struggles she has taught me to fight and be a survivor.

4. Sometimes people think you can do more than you can.  You know yourself best, your abilities and limitations.  Don’t let what others say or want for you to always determine what you do.  Don’t let what they say beat you down.  Don’t beat yourself up inside.  Take what people say with a grain of salt.  Listen to the advice of wisdom but let all frivolous words go in one ear and out the other ear.  Trust yourself, what you can and can’t do, and apply what you know of yourself.  You know yourself better than anyone else, so my golly, don’t let others rob you of that or step all over you.  Be you! Be true to yourself!

5.  Riches are nice, diamonds and pearls are nice but money isn’t everything.  Yes, looking good is nice.  Women want to look good and feel pampered.  Getting hair done and fixed is a must but can be done at low costs.  Having pretty nails is a must but can be done cheaply.  Having matching clothes and jewelry is nice but can be done with a bargain.  Just because you don’t have much money doesn’t mean you stop taking care of yourself or looking put together.  Just because you have money doesn’t mean you spend it all on looking good.  It’s good to look good and feel pampered but be wise.  Save money!

6.  Children are funny.  So laugh with them, be silly, play, but also teach them.  You have much to learn from children: let it go, stop being so serious, live a little, and be lighthearted.  Sometimes adults become too adult-like and forget these things.  But, you are an elder with wisdom, so teach children too.  Teach them sound life truths and that as an adult you need to have a sense of humor.

7.  Stop putting on facades and be real.  Every family has a least a bit of dysfunction.  Stop lying to yourself and others.  Stop pretending!  Be yourself and be real!  Being real doesn’t mean wearing your emotions on your sleeve all the time.  But, wear your emotions on your sleeve long enough so you can deal with your problems.  It doesn’t mean talking about your baggage all the time or presenting it to the world.  Fact is, everyone has some sort of baggage.  If you don’t believe that, then you are lying to yourself and lying to others.  Stop it!  Stop being fake and living by a façade.  Be real, deal with them, seek advice, be honest, and deal with life’s dysfunctions.  Once you deal with them, don’t forget the lessons you have learned, but also let it go.  Just because another person has some sort of dysfunction in their life doesn’t mean they are not friend-worthy or that you should stop being their friend.  Fact is we all have some sort of dysfunction, some more than others.  So, stop lying to yourself  and thinking you are better than others who are honest about their dysfunctions.  Help them, be there for them, and be a friend.  Stop being selfish!  But also, set your boundaries.  If you have a problem with their dysfunctions, talk to them and communicate.  Be honest!  If they seem to be life-suckers, communicate with them and see if they will work on things.  Have compassion!

8.  Just because you argue when you are in a relationship or married doesn’t mean you don’t love each other.  Love is a commitment and is hard work.  You will fight and you will face obstacles.  Commitment is strong and work through it.  Even when it’s tough, suck it up and be there for the other person.  Make your needs clear, but also don’t be selfish.  Love and commitment mean sacrificing and compromising.  Sometimes it’s good to talk and sometimes you just need to keep your mouth shut and let it go.

9.  Don’t judge others, not at all.  Love and accept others.  Love them for who they are.  Don’t try to change them.  Accept and love!

Picasso Poster by Christopher DeNoon, 1941 (LOC/WPA)

Public Domain

Lessons from my grandmother that passed away last year:

1.  Sometimes you face such rough times in life that you just need to let it go and move on.  Some things are worth talking about and some things are just not worth it.  When you have face enormous heartaches and challenges from others that have directly hurt you, sometimes dealing with it means accepting it happened but moving on.  Rehashing the past, a past that was beyond your control just stirs up unnecessary emotions and makes you relive those experiences.  This is not always healthy.  Let the past sit in the past and live for today.  Deal with it, let it go and move on!

2.  History is one of our great teachers.  Learn history, experience history, and know history.  Historical events and lessons happen to teach us and give us wisdom.  Treasure the experiences and wisdom you can learn from these events.  If you don’t know history, learn it!  Visit historical places, read about it, live it, so that you can learn from it.  People are fools when they don’t learn history.

3.  Know your roots and where you came from.  If it is hard to find your roots, start your own roots. Ancestry is important and there are things we can be proud of and also learn from our ancestry.  So, learn whatever you can and be proud of where you come from.  If you don’t have roots and can’t find your ancestry, start your own roots and ancestry with your immediate family.  Begin your own legacy and be proud of your legacy!

4.  Culture and art are another great teacher!  Experience cultural things and treasure art.  Artists tell their stories in the works they do.  We need to appreciate these stories, show them off, and learn from them.  Support your local artists because they are a lifeblood of the stories, histories, and traditions of our communities.  Experiencing art and other cultural things is good for us and good for the soul.  It educates us, makes us better people, gives us an outlet from the hard times in life and gives us a sense of community. When you experience cultural events, you often socialize and get yourself out and about.  In doing so, you are networking, enriching yourself and others, teaching and learning, and making friends.  Culture and art is healthy for you.  Stop sitting around, but get out and develop your community.

5.  Volunteering is important.  Find a cause that you love and support it.  Give of your time and to others.  Help your community.  You will enrich your life and the lives of others.  Giving back is good for the soul.  It teaches you to be balanced and unselfish.  Be wise and volunteer.  Help others in need.

6.  Take time for yourself and to yourself.  Take time out of your day as down time to relax and reflect.  It makes you balanced and healthy.  It is not good to be selfish but it is also not good to be selfless to the point that you neglect your own needs.  You can’t give to others and be there for others without taking care of yourself and keeping yourself healthy.  Part of keeping yourself healthy is to take a break, relax and have down time.  Do something you enjoy doing to sit still and relax.  Read a book, read the newspaper, listen to music, watch a TV show you like, go for a walk, exercise, and so on.  Do something that helps you unwind, relieve stress, and take time to yourself.  If you don’t do this, you are not being healthy and balanced.  You can’t be there for others and give of yourself to others if you don’t take time for yourself.  It is not selfish, it is healthy.

7.  Those with disabilities are treasured and special people.  They can teach us so much.  Life is much more rewarding to have them in our lives because they teach us things sometimes we forget.  They look at life in a much more simpler way and they live for today.  Life is much more enriching with those with disabilities.  Be there for them, teach them, but also let them teach you.

8.  Look good, put yourself together, and take time to do it.  When you do this you look more professional and people will take you more seriously.  When you take care of yourself and look good, it says that you care about yourself and that you have balance in life.  Taking time to put yourself together is important because it says that you care and take time to care.  People notice these things and respect these things.  But, when you put yourself together and look good, it is okay to look good while being comfortable and relaxing.  You can wear sweats, and still look good and be relaxed.  Taking care of yourself and looking good also doesn’t mean looking fake.  Look put together but don’t look fake.  Do you hair, do you nails, and have matching clothes.

9.  The simpler, often the better times.  When life becomes too complicated, with too much scheduled, too much on your plate, or too chaotic, it is not good for you and not healthy.  Simplify your life.  Do what you need to do but don’t overdo your schedule.  Have balance.  Having balance means you care and are trying to keep your life healthy.  When you don’t simplify you often are causing yourself unneeded stress and are actually sabotaging your happiness.  Stop, think and simplify!

10.  Be organized and know where things are.  Get rid of clutter.  Hold onto valuable and meaningful things.  But, don’t hold on to everything to the point it causes you clutter and stress.  It is okay to get rid of things.  Being organized and getting rid of clutter will make your life simpler and happier.  Treasure things of value and keep those, but have balance in what you keep.  Have a system of organization.  This helps you know where you put things and allows your life to have less stress and better flow.  This is healthier for you.

11.  Talk to people and love them, but also give them space.  Sometimes it’s good to talk to people and they want to be talked to, but sometimes they just need space.  Giving space is healthy and doesn’t necessarily show that you don’t love them.  Sometimes by giving people space it actually is a greater sign of love because you are attending to their needs and recognizing what they need.  When people need to talk, then talk and be cordial.  Have balance in your relationships with people.

12.  Keep yourself moving and being active as long as you can.  Keep pushing and moving until the end.  This grandmother really did do this until she was confound to a wheel chair.  She was determined not to be hindered by what was happening to her body and to her limitations.  Push past your limitations and be determined.  Keep being active with moving your body and keeping yourself healthy.

13.  Be loyal to those you love.

14.  Have your own identity in your relationship or marriage.  Don’t be so consumed with the other person that you forget who you are and neglect yourself.  Love and be one in a relationship.  But, also be yourself and have your own identity.  It is healthy and balanced when both people in the relationship have an interest and outlet separate from the other.  It is healthy for both of you to go and do your own thing but also to find common things and do them together.  It is also healthy to go to things that the other person likes but you don’t like in order to support them out of love.  Find something you like and do it separate from your loved one or spouse.  It is healthy to keep you interests and identity.

15.  Accomplish things that are important to you and be proud of them.  Don’t sit still and be lazy.

No Known Restrictions: Fiddlin' Bill Henseley, Mountain Fiddler, Asheville, North Carolina by Ben Shahn, 1937 (LOC)

Public Domain

Lessons from my grandfather that passed away over 5 years ago:

1.  Keep your mind healthy.  Sometimes your body can’t do what you want it to but your mind can.  Exercise your mind when your body can’t exercise.  Exercise what you can.  Keep focused and alert.  If you can’t use your body you can still use your mind and are still very capable.  Don’t let others tell you otherwise.  This grandfather had Parkinson’s Disease.  His body began to fail him but his mind was still sharp and active.  He often did brain puzzles and teasers to exercise his mind.  He spoke of his exercises and was proud of doing them because he still had his mind.

2.  Have music in your life as an outlet.  Play music, write music, and experience music.  Pass down musical traditions and heritage and be proud of them.  Music gives you a healthy outlet to unwind.  Music gives you purpose and identity.  Playing music gives you community and builds relationships.  Writing music helps you tell your story and helps others.  Music makes you happy.  If your family, heritage or culture has a musical tradition passed down, respect it, honor it and embrace it.  It doesn’t mean you have to play it, but know it and be proud of it.  There are many types of music.  No one is better than the other.  Play music and live.

3.  Sometimes there is a time to speak and sometimes there is a time to be silent.  Keep to your words.  Live by your words.  Speak wisdom to others.  Don’t blatantly talk out because it is foolish.  Speak when you need to and speak wisdom when you need to.  Sit back, be quiet, observe your situation and learn.  Think before you speak.  Wise people do this.

4.  Simpler places and times are less stressful and better.  These times and places make you happy and healthier.  You have a better purpose and sense of family when you live by simpler rules or in simpler ways.  Live as simple as you can because this is healthy for you.

5.  Be kind to others.  Don’t have a mean bone and if you do you better find a way to get rid of it without it wearing off onto or affecting others.  Be respectful and kind to everyone.  Treat others how you would want to be treated.

6.  Sometimes with some things in life you have to be stubborn.  Stubbornness can be a bad trait but it also can be a good trait.  If you have a stubborn nature, control it and use it in the good and for good purposes.  Use wisdom and sensitivity when applying stubbornness.  Use it only for good.  If you apply it the right way and only in the appropriate circumstances, then you will know you are using it correctly.  Never use stubbornness for bad, for ills in life or to hurt others.  This is rude, unkind and unacceptable.

7.  Trust your instincts and your gut.  Don’t always be quick to speak because fools do this.  Sit back, be quiet and listen.  Listen to your instincts and your gut.  Live by them because they are always right.  If you ignore your gut instincts then you are foolish.  If you speak out too quickly, you haven’t taken time to sit quietly and listen to your instincts.  When you do this, often people make foolish decisions and mistakes or say things they regret.  Stop, sit quietly, listen and follow your instincts.

8.  Have faith.  Faith gives you purpose and rules to live by.  It is healthy to have faith.  Have faith in others and believe in their abilities.

9.  Just because you are quiet doesn’t mean you are shy.  It can mean that you choose your words  carefully and wisely.  This is a strong trait, so be proud of it.  And, if you are not quiet-natured, then it is okay sometimes to sit back and be quiet.  Or, if you see a quiet-natured person it doesn’t mean they are shy.  They could be shy, but it often means they are careful about their words.  They don’t want to say something wrong, or say something out of turn to hurt others.  They are living by wisdom.

10.  Working hard and applying yourself helps you succeed to many things.  Be a hard worker and accomplish things with your work.  Work your way up the totem pole at work.  Be quiet and wise when you work and with your work.  Hard and fair workers will have success.  So, apply yourself.  Don’t work so hard though where you don’t take time to yourself.  Work hard, apply yourself, but take time to relax in your personal life and have balance.  By doing this, in the long run you will have more success.

No Known Restrictions: Afternoon downtown, Des Moines, Iowa by John Vachon (LOC)

Public Domain

Lessons by my living grandfather:

1.  Be frugal.  Use what you can for others things.  Recycle items for other uses.  Don’t waste.  Wastefulness is bad.  Many items can be recycled or reused for another purpose.  Think outside the box with an item before you throw it away.  Brainstorm ways you can use the item for another purpose.  Think hard and carefully.  When you do this, you often will find another purpose for that item.

2.  Family and friends are important.  Be loyal and love them.  Sacrifice yourself for the people who you love.  Help them, give to them, and be there for them.  Love is a thicker bond than anything else, but also is a choice.  Choose to love and apply your love.

3.  Life has obstacles that you have to overcome.  Some people have more than others.  Persevere through the obstacles, work hard, apply yourself and move forward to overcome them.  Don’t let your situation bring you down or dictate what you do in a negative way.  Use the negative experiences you face for positive reasons.  Take what life throws you and run with it and make something positive of it.  Have an optimistic attitude about things.  Apply yourself and succeed.

4.  Just because you don’t have money doesn’t mean you have to be not put together or unclean.  This grandparent often says, “A bar of soap doesn’t cost that much, so buy it and use it.”  Keep yourself clean, keep your things clean and keep your living space clean.

5.  Sing.  Even if you don’t sing well or don’t have any pitch, it is okay to sing around the house.  Singing helps you unwind, get rid of stress and deal with life’s situations.  It is healthy, so it is okay to do.  Don’t worry or be concerned about what others say or think.

6.  Don’t sit still and be lazy.  Sitting still and being lazy is foolish.  Be active, walk, clean, accomplish errands and work hard.  You get nowhere in life by sitting still and being lazy.  Life will continue to move around you and you accomplish nothing.  You will become depressed and it is unhealthy.  So, get up, move and do!  It is healthier and will keep you balanced.

7.  Be committed to those things that are important to you.  Once you say you’ve made a commitment, stick to the commitment.  Be a person of your word.

8.  Joke and laugh.  Sometimes people may thing your jokes are ridiculous but it’s okay.  Be yourself.  Joke, laugh and blow off steam.  But, be respectful in your jokes.  Don’t ever put anyone else down.  This type of joking is foolish.  Be wise in how you joke, but laugh and joke!

9.  Sometimes the ills of life take huge sacrifices.  Sometimes sacrificing and being unselfish is important.  Sometimes the only way to get through things is to sacrifice.  Be wise, think and apply yourself to get through the ills of life.  Sometimes making huge temporary sacrifices will reap huge rewards in the future.  Sacrificing is part of life.  You will reap the benefits later.

10.  Be patient and don’t be in such a hurry.  Have patience in life and slow down.  Life will pass you by and be unhappy and unhealthy if you are not patient and don’t slow down from time to time.

11.  Many people today want instant gratification and things now.  This is not wise or healthy.    Delaying gratification and waiting is healthier and wiser.  Your life will be more balanced and better in the long run if you do this.  Your finances and circumstances will be better.  So, stop thinking you deserve and need everything now.  You don’t need everything.  Just because you want something doesn’t mean you need it.  Delay gratification of getting things.  This is part of the problem with the economy now.  It is part of the problem of today’s generations where they think they need everything now, deserve everything and need instant gratification.  Not true, so stop.

12.  Support your loved ones and family.  Do what you need to do when you need to do it.  Help others.  Work hard.  Hard work will reap many future benefits.  Provide for your loved ones and family.

No Known Restrictions: Texas School Girl ca. 1943 by John Vachon (LOC)

Public Domain

Lessons learned from all grandparents:

1.  Have faith.

2.  Save, save!

3.  Invest!  But, be wise in your investments.

4.  Be kind to others!

5.  Help others and stop being selfish.  But, have balance.

6.  Be giving.

7.  Have compassion.  Don’t be hard-hearted.

8.  Work hard.  Hard work will get you far in life.

9.  There is no excuse for laziness.  Stop being lazy.  Get off your bottom and do something.

10.  Don’t expect handouts.  Work hard, earn what you deserve.  People can help you but don’t sit still and wait for a freebie or handout.  Lazy people do this.  Work hard.  Earn something!

11.  Even in the stresses of life and the dysfunctions, family and friends are important.  Accept people’s failures and mistakes.  Love them anyway.  Be loyal and be there for them.  But, also move on.  Don’t look back once you’ve moved on.

12.  Have humor in life.  Always laugh, it’s medicine for the soul.

13.  Life is too short.  You don’t ever know what will happen or when your time is, so do something with your life and time.  Live your life because you won’t be here forever.

14.  Be proactive with your time and what you do.  Manage your time and commitments wisely.  Do what is important for today.

15.  Plan for the future and have an end goal, but live for today.  Don’t dwell on tomorrow or live in the future.  Live for today, but have a vision and goal.

16.   Life has hard times and disappointments.  Some are in your control and some are out of your control.  Be proactive in working through and fixing what is in your control.  But, be honest with yourself of what is out of your control, accept it, and let it go.  You can’t control the things that are out of your control, so stop trying.  Deal with it, suck it up, face it head on if you need to and move on.  Don’t dwell on the things you can’t control.

17.  Life is not always fair or even.  Some people will have better circumstances than others.  Some people will have more money than others.  Some people will have face tougher trials in life than others.  Sometimes more things happen to others.  We often want life to be fair and even, but it’s not always fair or even.  Control what you can.  Work hard for success.  Apply yourself and reach your goals.  Earn money.  Do what you need to do, to better yourself and your situation.  But while doing this, it is wise to know that life will never be even for everyone.  If you believe that it should be, you will spend your whole life trying and will never live.  Take your circumstances, and what life has dealt you and make the most of it.  Everyone’s situation is different, so what works for one person in one situation isn’t necessarily what will work in your situation.  Do what is best for you.  Accept life’s blows.  Accept some people will have more than you.  Accept that some people will have harder trials that you.  Accept that some people will have less than you.  Accept that some people have it easier than you.

18.  People will be people and no one is perfect.  You can’t control others, how they act or what they do, so don’t try.  Accept people and love them for their strengths and weaknesses.  If you don’t agree with them or what they are doing, accept your differences, let it go and love them anyway.

19.  Have motivation, a dream, a goal, and determination to reach them.

20.  Live your life!

I believe many of these lessons are lessons that the Great Depression Generation has learned from the hard circumstances they grew up under.  They grew up in a time of tough trials, under hard economic circumstances and difficult world circumstances too.  How they were raised has been instilled in them.  At very young ages they learned life lessons that were really way beyond their years.  This is why they are in my opinion the greatest generation of educators and teachers.  The lessons we can learn from them are immeasurable. My grandparents are of this generation and are of the greatest teachers I have ever known.  They are the products of their experiences growing up in the Great Depression.  They learned the most important values in life: commitment, community, neighbors, friends, family, sharing, sacrificing, giving, working hard, earning, and so on.  With the ongoing current economic hardships, being around a generation that believes in entitlement, being around the increasingly busy-bodied nature of society today, and the ongoing increase in technology-based communication, there is much wisdom from the Great Depression Generation that we need to apply.  They learned things and can teach us things that are valuable to society today. What have you learned from them?  How should we apply these lessons?


About adaptivelearnin

I am an educational professional who is passionate about needs analysis and materials creation to enhance student learning of all ages. I hope the content I share here will be of value to you in some way. Opinions are my own and are not those of my employer. Join me at my session for the 2013 TESOL International Conference, "ESL Instruction: Developing Your Skills to Become a Master Conductor", March 21 10:00 AM in room C144. My presentation focuses on listening, speaking and pronunciation music teaching techniques incorporated with ESL teaching. This is not your typical music/ESL presentation with chants and songs. Be prepared to use your vocal chords, diaphragm, lungs, mouth muscles, and arms like you have never used before in pronunciation, speaking and language instruction. Learn how to use music conducting skills in the language classroom to better facilitate language acquisition. Learn how to use music performance skills (vocal and instrumental) to better facilitate language learning. Be prepared to laugh and have fun. I look forward to meeting you and working with you.

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