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The No Complaint Generation

The “No Complaint” Generation. Most know them as the “Greatest Generation”.

Recently, my 88-year-old grandmother had a terrible fall where she broke her arm, hurt her hip, and some of her internal organs gave the doctors a scare.  Throughout her time in the hospital she was in terrible pain, including the time the doctors re-broke her arm because it was not done correctly the first time.  To add insult to her already numerous injuries, the hospital was over-crowded and her hospital bed was parked for 36 hours in the hallway.  Only when a bedroom opened in a nearby rehabilitation building did my grandmother get some relief by being moved to a private room. 

The whole event was traumatic to those of us that care for her, but my grandmother saw the situation as a nuisance.  This ordeal was getting in the way of her daily routines, and keeping her away from her sewing group where she makes beautiful quilts and other hand stitched art.  During her stay, my stubborn grandmother never uttered a word of frustration, anger, anxiety, or fear, nor did she signal that she needed any extra attention to make her stay any more comfortable.  My grandmother actually seemed annoyed when loved ones fussed over her.  She was toughing it out.

The doctor who set, and re-set, my grandmother’s arm came into her room towards the end of her stay and said with a smile; “I am really proud of you; you are from the “No Complaint” generation”.  My grandmother smiled in return with great pride after getting such a complement. 

Wait… What???  Was that a complement?  Was she complemented for Toughing it Out, for not sharing her thoughts or emotions, and for allowing her needs not to me met?  Even though the doctors and nurses helped my grandmother’s body, her emotional health did not get any tending to.

Former NBC news anchor, Tom Brokaw, was the first to coin the phrase “The greatest generation”.  These are individuals who were born during the great depression, fought in WWII, and were the engine behind the economic boom of the 1950’s.  One of Tom Brokaw’s arguments was that these individuals didn’t sacrifice for the recognition, but rather did it because it was the right thing to do.

Former legendary football coach and motivational speaker, Lou Holtz, has traveled far and wide, and has been paid a lot of money for sharing his story.  One of his famous quotes includes: “90% of people do not care about your problems, and 10% are glad you have them.  So, don’t talk about it.”  His message for the rest of us is the same message he received as a kid, Tough it Out!  Born in a working town of West Virginia, Lou Holtz’s, community “toughed out” difficult jobs, in difficult areas.  Rather then share the pain with family and friends; they kept their pain to themselves.  The message was clear, don’t bother others with your burdens…tough it out.

Bret and Kate from the website “art of manliness”, compiled a list of characteristics that they admire from the greatest generation.  This list includes: taking responsibility for your life, being frugal, being humble, loving loyally, embracing challenge, working hard, and not making life so complicated.  Even though this list is one every generation would be wise to emulate, the list is missing one point… share your story, by talking it out. 

As this generation thinks about the values and lessons we want to pass on to the next one, there is no doubt that personal responsibility, duty, honor, and faith are core principles that will lead to their success.  We are lucky to have a generation that taught us so much, but we also can learn from what I perceive is lacking. 

I wonder what kind of recovery my grandmother could actually make if she allowed her self to share her horrific story, allowed herself to ask for better accommodations, and allowed the rest of us to care for her.  As many “Great” things she, and her generation, have achieved, “toughing it out to their own detriment” is something I will, respectfully, not copy, and not pass on to future generations.  In the pursuit for a happier, healthier, and longer life, I would rather Talk it out then tough it out.