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 dictionary.com, 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.
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?’
Creative commons license via wikipedia
There’s comment space at the foot of this post, and I invite your thoughts to be placed there.