The recent and current economic upheavals may have a much bigger impact than people currently realise. It may be that the Crash of 2008 will have something of the impact of the Great Depression. And that leads me to reflect on some of the carryover of that era and its impact on the mindset of those who went through it.
Aftermath of the Depression Years
I was born in the 1950’s, twenty years after the Great Depression was having its awful impact. Yet, despite the passing of two decades there were many vestiges of the Depression mindset still evident among the older generation.
I use the word mindset because the Great Depression changed the way people think. It so shook them that they carried their thinking through the rest of their life. If what we are experiencing now is akin to the early 1930’s then there will be a dramatic change of thinking forced upon today’s carefree and irresponsible youth.
Austerity and Caution
The two main legacies of the Great Depression, as I observed them, were austerity and caution. Frugality, making do and stretching meagre resources was a lifestyle for those impacted by the depression years. At the same time there was an allergy to daring, jeopardising a good job or a secure situation. So, caution ruled the thinking of those who remembered the long years of unemployment.
Austerity was seen in such things as the simplification of life. People made do with the simple option, rather than demanding the exotic and extravagant alternatives. People made their own fun, rather than paying money for someone to amuse them. People made cautious choices, looking for quality and durability, instead of the throw-away options popular in more affluent times.
People grew their own veges, picked fruit from road-side trees and recycled things that could be put to use a second time. Old things were often stored, for scavenging spare parts or as a back-up if something went wrong.
Generosity Was Common
I can’t qualify this observation and it may not have been a product of the depression years, but just evidence of the more caring community overall, but I have the recollection of good doses of generosity. People shared what they had. The person with a good crop of fruit took it along to share with others. People would fossick out something from their shed that might help someone else in need. A sense of willingness to bale someone out and feel sorry for the less fortunate was not uncommon.
Men walking the streets looking for odd jobs would call at a home and be given a job, so they could then be given a feed. The situation was pitiful, but the level of care was also impressive at times.
The hand-me-down culture was also generous and prevalent. Clothing which children had grown out of was offered to others whose children might fit it. Some things would have to be mended or patched, but if there was life in the garment it was likely to be worn again by someone else.
Secure employment became a high priority for people after the depression. Many of my friends were steered toward government jobs, or stable careers, by parents who remembered the austerity and deprivation of the depression.
When someone talked of wasting some years before settling down, or of quitting their job to do something more interesting there was a strong cautioning response from the older folk. Getting and keeping a good job, building a solid career, buying a block of land and avoiding frivolous and wasteful activities were the visions most parents had for their children.
Another legacy of those years was a high level of personal productivity and proactive behaviour. People had to make do or find a way to get what they wanted. They could not afford the luxury of doing things the easy way, so they had to toughen up their resolve and lift their energy and activity levels until they could get things done.
This heightened capacity for getting things done was taken for granted in the middle of last century. People were hardened for work, willing to get their hands dirty, able to bend their back, walk the miles and get the job done. It’s a far cry from the grandchildren of that generation, who have had it soft and easy for so long that they resent having to put themselves into anything at all.
People in the depression could not be choosy about what they ate, so they learned to eat what was good for them. Children had to eat their veges, which may have been all they had for dinner, and they learned to eat everything on their plate.
They couldn’t demand the latest fashion, or the brand-name product. They were lucky to have anything at all. People went barefoot, wore odd-fitting clothes, put cardboard in their shoes because the sole was worn through, pasted newspaper on the wall to cover cracks and holes, and walked many miles because they couldn’t afford bus fare.
People made presents to give away at Christmas. They learned how to repair things that were broken, because they could not afford to replace them. They learned to preserve what they had, rather than be irresponsible with it.
With that came the ability to be happy with what they had, because there was no alternative. Making do became a lifestyle, so that it became the thing to do.
People had tons of fun. They did not have many “things” but they had energy, friends, family, music, talent, and much more. Fun could be made by singing together or playing instruments, if they had them. Talking, walking, reading to yourself and others, making things, sport, being with friends and family and many other real pleasures filled people’s lives.
Instead of being distracted by things, people created fun and amused themselves in a host of ways that did not need money or commercial suppliers. The survivors of the depression continued to enjoy simple things, even when their children or grandchildren were addicted to electronic thrills, or commercial distractions.
Think About the Impact
The reason I share all this with you is not to be nostalgic, but to capture something of the shock that is about to hit today’s younger generation. If the current economic upheavals continue on their downward path we may well find ourselves facing five years of increasing recession, depression, unemployment, deprivation and austerity.
Have you prepared yourself and your family for such an outcome? How well will today’s self-indulgent youth cope with such a turn-around? They won’t be able to afford a psychologist. So how will they come to terms with their hopes being dashed and their lifestyle being taken from them?
The Austerity of the Depression years has evaporated in our society. It is a mere memory. But it may soon become a lifestyle. I pray that you and your family have wisdom for facing such events with faith and contentment, finding God’s best, when the commercial and material trappings are taken from you.