The Tragedy of Tradition?

The traditional fireworks display given for many different reasons. This one is at Sydney, Australia.
Creative commons licence via Wikipedia.
<a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="http://Linh_rOm, CC BY 2.0 http://Linh_rOm, CC BY 2.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

Tradition, what is it? Why do we value it? Is it always good?

The SOED defines it in several ways, but this is the essence: a statement, belief, custom, etc., handed down by non-written (esp. oral) means from generation to generation. Doctrine usually regarded as having divine authority without written evidence.  For a definition from, please click here. And for the feature in Wikipedia click here.

A precis of 14 disparate traditions from around the world can be found here. And another 15 can be found here. Another 11 here. Many more can be found here. But I won’t go on. It’s easy to do your own research, after all.

Dangerous, bizarre, grotesque, charming, beautiful, uplifting… just some of the adjectives that can be applied to various customs, rituals, traditions. Of course, communities that practice any given custom are unlikely to condemn it, even if, as is quite often the case, it is dangerous, cruel, or simply ludicrous. In fact, in most cases, those communities are unlikely even to question any suspect ritual.

My intention here is neither to condemn, nor to praise tradition. We all know of at least one custom that is internationally condemned yet continues to be practiced by a specific group. No, my purpose is to raise a few questions we might all ask about those traditions we’ve been raised to accept as ‘normal’, probably beneficial to our society, possibly considered essential to the continued welfare of our specific group.

My questions?

1. Does this custom harm anyone?
2. Do you know how this ritual came about? Here, I mean really know, not simply rely on the reasons passed down by those who act in authority regarding the rite.
3. Is the history of the custom still worthy when viewed from a modern point of view?
4. Who, if anyone, gains from the tradition, and what do they gain?
5. Might it be better if this rite was no longer performed?
6. Does the ritual divide or unite the community?
7. Similarly, does the custom unite or divide different communities?
8. If viewed dispassionately, would this tradition still be alive today?
9. To what extent is the custom based on superstition and/or a religious belief?
10. Why do you, as an individual, continue this tradition?

I’m sure you can all think of other questions we might address to customs and traditions. I leave that to you. Or, perhaps, you feel so strongly about the role of tradition that you consider questioning it a spectacularly bad concept? I, of course, would ask ‘Why do you feel that way?’

I place this illustration, from one of many nude bicycle events held around the world, here as an experiment: some will see it as provocative, other will accept it as simply another illustration of a modern tradition.

Creative commons license via wikipedia

<a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="http://Loz Pycock, CC BY-SA 2.0 http://Loz Pycock, CC BY-SA 2.0 <;, via Wikimedia Commons

There’s comment space at the foot of this post, and I invite your thoughts to be placed there.

13 thoughts on “The Tragedy of Tradition?

  1. Stuart, my point is my Dawta could afford to fly from Washington to Arizona and has the time, but she chose not to take the chance of bringing Covid to her Dad and me. Yes, I am sad that she can’t but glad she cares that much, and sad that our Sun is now living in Arizona, but chose not to come to have a slice for the same reason. We do not allow anyone in our house, until the pandemic is over. People need to use their heads and their hearts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good to see your daughter and son taking sensible decisions at this unfortunate time when Covid has changed the way we need to think about such things, Brenda.


  2. I’ve often thought that we are victims of tradition. Not all traditions, but many simply lack any pertinent meaning in modern times. At other times though, they have a stabilizing influence – some constant benchmark for something, but what? Security?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Victims is a good description, Harold. Many traditions are steeped in a history without modern relevance or even counter to what we now value. There are many traditions that are harmless, but also a good many that do great damage. The probable stand-out for actual harm is FGM of course.
      But other customs do provide social stability. Whether that is always a good thing, of course, depends on point of view and place in that society. I doubt the caste system in India is much appreciated by the ‘untouchables’, for instance.
      It’s the unthinking acceptance of tradition, simply because it is a tradition, that I question. It would be useful if people considered these rituals, customs, and rites, before going with the flow.
      Keep safe and stay well. Merry Xmas.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Well said Stuart! I have big hopes for the generations following us and I think such issues as global warming will require a new focus and the breaking of traditional approaches to just about everything. Merry Christmas to you too, and stay safe.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. Yes, I’ve considered this question from time to time. Some traditions are harmless while others damage the environment and/or are downright dangerous. The nude bike riding? Probably uncomfortable but for the most part, harmless. I come from a family of lawyers and was married to a judge, and I always wondered about the robes.
    It’s just tradition; why do it? I understand why the military continues a lot of this stuff (bonding, respect, status, authority) and aviation, too (passengers feel much better if you’re wearing a uniform) but really? A of the time, it’s a waste of time and energy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree with you about the nude bike rides, Lynette – no harm to anyone other than possibly to the riders!
      Robes for judges falls into the same category as most ‘ceremonial’ dress for me. All about pomp and circumstance – a device to intimidate, to separate, to place the wearer ‘above’ those without. It’s routed in class division, which is something we really do need to end. A false division of societies based on nothing more than wealth in most cases. And, in the UK, much of that inherited wealth stems from ancestors who were sycophants to the then ruling king or queen. Time, I think, to remove such privilege and bring about a little more equality.
      You keep safe and stay well, Lynette. And Happy Xmas.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone thought about any tradition or event that they are doing? It would, but we are all flawed human beings and carry on traditions because “that’s the way it always has been done.” I make from scratch pizza every year for Christmas dinner. I started when our children were young because it gave me time to play with them and not a slave in the kitchen. Everyone got in the act by putting on their favorite topping. When they were older, we invited all their friends that were away from home and had no place to go. Now they will try to fly, or drive to enjoy a slice or two or three. This year it is just hubby and me. Next year we may have a house full! Everyone wear your mask and stay safe. Get the vaccine as soon as you can.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. That’s my hope, Brenda; that people may actually pause and consider whether what they are about to do is actually a good idea after all. In your case, the simple preparation of a meal for Xmas is fine. But I ask, is it sensible for people to fly or drive merely to taste this favoured food? Our environment is in a dangerous state and travel may well be one of those things we need to think about more seriously if we are to leave a decent future for our children.
      Keep safe and stay well. And have a Merry Xmas.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I agree with you. People should stop and think if their tradition is harming the environment. Take the festival of Diwali in India for instance. Unfortunately, it has become a tradition to burst fire-crackers, thus polluting the air. It has become so bad that the government has issued a public plea not to rampantly do so.

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    1. Yes, Aithal. Simply following traditions because they are traditions can be very damaging for the environment. What was once acceptable because there were fewer people can so easily become damaging when populations grow.

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