Home Concepts Concepts of Leadership Community Engagement Setting the Stage for Theory S: II. The Social and Cultural Characteristics of Generational Age Groups

Setting the Stage for Theory S: II. The Social and Cultural Characteristics of Generational Age Groups

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Traditionalists

Now at least 65, this cohort actually consists of two age groups: Veterans (born 1901-1924) and the Silent Generation (born 1925-1944). It is the second smallest number in the US population (55 million) (Endnote 2). Traditionalists of both groups share many of the same characteristics. They either entered the workforce before World War II, or came home from the war and got a job, or were born during this period. Many of their behaviors today can be traced to experiences during or immediately after the Great Depression, World War II, the atom bomb, the GI Bill, and the Korean War.

Traditionalists grew-up when children were “to be seen and not heard.” The assault on America’s political liberty by the House Committee on Un-American Activities in tandem with Senator Joseph McCarthy’s in¬quisitions mortified them for life. McCarthy whipped up anti-communist sentiment to such a degree that it was dangerous to ex¬press an opinion anywhere, about anything. People went to jail for beliefs and affiliations held 20 or 30 years earlier. Free speech was all but dead. People became apolitical. Safe. Silent (Endnote 3)

No generation has been so misunderstood and underestimated. Silents, the majority of Traditionalists still alive, are about 95% retired and often are worst off financially now than they were previously in their life. In a few short years they have come to command no industry, battlefield, or any other organization of significance. In terms of formal leadership and public visibility, they will have mostly disappeared into the shadows. Yet, this has been a generation of helpers. It produced every great Civil Rights leader, almost every leader in the Women’s Movement, and most of the scientific and industrial giants. Its greatest contribution has been to humanize their world, and now they want to ensure a safe world for their grandchildren (Endnote 4).

Traditionalists play by the rules. Their principal values are trust, privacy, conformity, faith in institutions, respect for authority, patience, responsibility before pleasure, self-denial, formality, and social order. They may not be as hardy as they used to be, but they are tough and resilient. They didn’t make it through the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, World War II and Korea by dwelling on negatives. They remember a time when people treated one another with common courtesy and when morals and ethics defined the character of an individual (Endnote 5).

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