During recent weeks we have seen comparisons between today’s coronavirus concerns and the Spanish flu of a hundred years ago.

In addition, we’ve heard some say that our current arrangement of staying away from work—if continued—can lead to a worst-case scenario that will resemble the Great Depression of the 1930s.

Fortunately, even though recent times have been difficult, they do not compare to either of those events in magnitude or severity.

And we hope they never do.

But in spite of current challenges, we have seen some camaraderie among the populace, a kind of kinship in which people pull together and try to be supportive. And that’s always a good thing.

During the dire situation that was the Great Depression, similar connections were forged as a result of millions of Americans going through the same difficulties together, a connection which prompted men in conversation to sometimes refer to each other as “brother.”

In fact, a song emerged from those times called Brother Can You Spare a Dime? (Lyrics by Yip Harburg; music by Jay Gorney; later performed by Bing Crosby).

Immediately after the Great Depression came  World War II, and Americans pulled together yet again, often reminding themselves, “We’re all in this together,” and sometimes rhetorically asking, “Don’t you know there’s a war on?”

Americans have definitely been through demoralizing circumstances before, and by keeping everything in perspective, they can handle whatever comes their way today.

We’ve not yet struggled through anything like the Spanish flu pandemic, the Great Depression, or World War II.

But we can certainly learn a lot from those who did.

About 25 years ago Texas minister Tom Nelson spoke of American experiences in the 1930s and the years that followed.

“That generation,” he said, “went through World War II.  They went through standing in potato soup lines to get a handout.  They went through the depression.  They went through Korea.  They went through, running around in the summer time, being told to wear shoes, so they wouldn’t catch polio…  Well, do you know what that generation got through World War II, Korea, the depression, disease?  I’ll tell you what.  They learned to be frugal.  They learned to be responsible.  They learned to be patriotic.  They learned to be appreciative…. They learned the humility of how small that they are.  They learned the horror of wicked governments.  They learned the goodness of righteous men.  They learned to thank God for the bread on their table.  They learned to always finish what they started.  They appreciated a job at 50 cents a day.  They learned to work their way through school.  They learned to lay their life on the line.  In short, what the adversity of the early 20th century produced was probably the greatest generation in the history of the United States.”

The notion that people can go through extreme hardship and end up thriving after the experience is one that is good to think of at this time.

Hardship has indeed been our companion in recent weeks—an inconvenience for some; devastating for others—but history tells us that that better days are ahead.

Sources consulted:

Brother Can You Spare a Dime? YouTube. (Posted Nov. 1, 2007). https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eih67rlGNhU

Nelson, Tom. (1995). Message delivered June 11, 1995, Denton Bible Church, Denton, Texas.


Transit and Parking Communications Director David Wilson contributed this article.