Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Tradition: the Biggest Roadblock to Progress

"Tradition is the biggest roadblock to progress"

-- Brandon Clabes, chief of the Midwest City Police Department on efforts by policemen in America to bring back "plain English." NPR.org

How often have traditions made you starstruck, paralyzed your actions, or distracted you from accomplishing the real work at hand? "Traditions" are usually defined as customary patterns of thoughts or actions relating to the past. They concern behaviors handed through generations and often have to do with honors bestowed.

I like traditions. Family traditions can create happy memories from birthday parties and holiday meals. They are recurring events to anticipate, to participate in and remember afterward. Presidential inaugurations, royal coronations and prize ceremonies are institutionalized traditions cherished by millions. Traditions are works of beauty identified in the eyes of the beholders.

Traditions also have another darker side. Traditions can be over-imposed, create unnecessary hardship for others and distract them from productive agendas. Some people enjoy them more than others do. Many people avoid displays of tradition and find them unnecessary, even unhelpful.

Placing too high a value on traditions and "what other people will think" pushes people into disastrous situations that they might not otherwise take upon themselves, for example, political affiliations, employment or travel situations. Clinging to the past can be counterproductive if doing so in any way blocks worthwhile improvements.

Airline employees who by tradition haven't assertively alerted their superiors have contributed to airline accidents, as described in Malcolm Gladwell's book, Outliers: The Story of Success. An employee didn't make a pilot aware his plane was running out of fuel and the plane crashed.

What to do and How to Manage Traditions

Being nice, taking the high road, thinking about traditions and keeping whatever works for you and your group are correct ways of dealing with historically powerful traditions. Avoid traditions if they are not good, not helpful or if you don't enjoy them. Traditions should only be kept if they are worthy of being kept and serve useful purposes.

Many books on the issue of "keeping up appearances" and following family and societal traditions have been enjoyed by generations of readers. "The Forsyte Saga" by John Galsworthy springs to mind.

On the subject of being nice, here's an amusing Wikihow article called "How to Be Nice to a Girl" -- or to anyone...It's interesting to read, if only out of curiosity.

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