On Tradition

We as a species cling to our creature comforts, the things we know, love, and understand. We tend not to veer far off our usual track when it comes to just about everything: culture, politics, religion – we treat it all as though we found the definitive answer to all of our problems long ago, and no further research need be done, no further attention given. But, that isn’t the way things work. Progress doesn’t stop, time only moves forward, and yet here we stand, living anachronisms, out of time, clinging to the remains of the past for longer than we have any sound reason to do so.

            Before we go any further, I should make two things abundantly clear. The first is that I’ve always been rather “humbug” about traditions, especially inconvenient, outdated, or empty ones that have long outlived their use. I don’t like to do things just because they’ve always been done this way. If they don’t hold up to scrutiny, I get cranky and resist, sometimes rather childishly, I’ll admit. The second thing I should make clear is that while I’m generally tradition-averse, I’m not anti-tradition. There are certainly some time-honored traditions that have stood the test of time which I find useful. However, much of the time I don’t see the point. 

            Doing anything because it’s “always been done” is a terrible reason to do anything. Perhaps the most glaring example of traditions overstaying their welcome is in government. How many traditions have we upheld simply because we’ve always done them? How much in general have we kept so as not to trample over historical precedent? Elections come to mind immediately. The voting system could be fixed relatively simply (says the man with only a minor in politics). Our voting system would become instantly fairer if we abolished the electoral college, favoring instead a direct popular vote or ranked-choice system. But we don’t, because we’ve had our system for so long that many feel it’s irreplaceable.

            The attachment to tradition is alive and well, especially on the right. Those with a conservative bent seem to be the most adamant about keeping things the same, deadly sure that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It is broken, and it’s needed fixing for a century. We don’t need to uphold traditions or laws that no longer apply. We know this, and sometimes we even make important changes. Marriage equality comes to mind. The argument against it came from religious and governmental absolutists, all certain that the way things were is how they should stay, that everything is as it should be. Essentially, all resistance to meaningful progress comes down to a dyed in the wool adherence to traditions. 

            We grip the past at our own peril. We run the risk of making the same mistakes we’ve always made, running in circles, fighting the same fights – and for what? What’s so important about tradition? Be it governmental, societal, or within your own family, how many things do we do simply because we’ve always done them? Just how many traditions have become defunct and useless, yet we continue to practice them to our own detriment? There is nothing shackling us to these practices, we need only move on, condemning outdated practices to the dust bin, moving ever forward in the name of progress and humanity.

Published by Christopher Goodlof

Writer, Visual Artist, Musician

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