“We’ve just always done it this way” Tradition – Why it should (almost) always be questioned

“We’ve just always done it this way” is a phrase that most will have used at some point in their lives. It is very often used as a perfectly sensible answer to any query that may emerge regarding the logic behind commonly held traditions. For a lot of harmless and inconsequential traditions, it is nevertheless enough of an explanation. However, when a tradition has become more than just a quirky method of separating oneself from the rest – blindly enduring practices and beliefs just because they have existed before, makes inevitable adverse consequences all the more difficult to spot.

It appears to me that the very thing commonly used to justify keeping up tradition is it’s most harmful asset. The length of time a tradition has been held regularly forms a shield of ignorance, protecting us from the fact that the tradition may no longer be advantageous or even necessary.

Marriage is a sublime cacophony of tradition(s) that offers itself up to criticism in blissful ignorance. My thoughts on traditional marriage and it’s need to be questioned were suddenly evoked when I heard recently that Russia was banning drivers with “sex disorders” from driving, following on from their move to make ‘non-tradtional lifestyles’ illegal in 2013. This diabolically ignorant attitude is too aggravating to be discussed in great detail, however the phrase ‘non-traditional lifestyles’ intrigues me. It is an undeniable fact that homosexual relationships cannot conceive children – it is biologically impossible – and therefore describing it as ‘non-traditional’ is not inaccurate, however this phrase serves little or no purpose other than to point out the aforementioned fact. There is simply no need for these relationships and personal practices to be treated any differently to the ‘traditional’ relationship. A ‘traditional relationship’ may well have been important in the past, it was essential to the progression of the human race, but we live in an age when pro-creation need not be our main priority as a species, what’s more important is raising our children in a society that understands when it has outgrown itself.

Image courtesy of http://www.weddings53.com

The traditional white wedding, but even the dress has an interesting history behind it

Continuing with the theme of marriage, the traditional Christian marriage that we are used to in Britain is one that I feel is worthy of comment, given it’s increasingly outdated intricacies and traditions. The most obvious aspect that I feel many women don’t take the time to consider – by choice or otherwise – is the changing of their family name. This is a tradition that dates back hundreds of years, way back to when a woman would simply be know as ‘Mrs John Smith’, and leave her identity behind altogether (although as with almost any aspect of legal history, it was not always quite this straightforward). There are so many traditional aspects of marriage that have survived the years of change – the male dominated speeches, the signatures on the wedding certificate, the ‘giving away’ of the bride – though realistically harmless and insignificant these days, they are weighty baggage from a time when marriage was a transfer of property between two men. Clearly these traditions are no longer forced upon anyone, but their legacy lives on with the people who, knowingly or not, continue to follow them, and I think it’s essential that we are at the very least aware of what these traditions represent, if we are not courageous enough to move on from them completely.

Humans are creatures of comfort, they like doing things that have been done before because it means not having to do things differently. Families around Britain are probably most comfortable in their traditions at Christmas time. A lot of the traditional activities that take place at Christmas time originate in Pagan and Christian practises, and this is a great little site explaining some of our well known festive traditions. I for one am a sucker for a good old fashioned Christmas, despite being largely anti-religion, but the recent realisation that I have no way of explaining why we do most of the things we do at Christmas has really baffled me. I can’t see much wrong with pulling a cracker and having no idea why you are doing it, especially now that I know it’s origins are completely harmless. But imagine for a moment that it turned out crackers represented the snapping of babies necks during a brutal genocide in the 17th century? A ridiculous example I know, but would you feel as comfortable doing it if you knew the truth? Would you simply try and forget the meaning? It’s understandably difficult for people to personally associate with things like this when they happened so long ago, and appear to have little or no relevance to the modern day manifestation, but would you not rather know what these traditions represented than live in ignorance? Ignorance is bliss, but ignorance should not be a choice.

Image courtesy of http://www.thetraditionalchristmaspickle.com/

Most recently the subject of forgetting history and tradition has come up in the US, with the proposed removal of the confederate flag from many public displays in the southern states. This is a fascinating example of history’s relevance in modern day society. The pro-slavery links to this flag are unquestionable, and it causes wholly justifiable anguish among ethnic minorities in the US, but does this mean it should be torn down and forgotten about? Absolutely not. It perhaps shouldn’t be flying with pride alongside it’s national compatriot, but it should remain in museums, be discussed in schools, and never be forgotten by the American people, as that would be far more damaging to their society – and indeed the world – than if it were forgotten.

Image courtesy of http://www.tomstiglich.com/

Are these 3 on a par? Either way, they cannot be forgotten

So, if it hasn’t been made clear already, I think it’s absolutely essential for us as intelligent human beings living in a wondrously advanced and futuristic society, to question our traditions, from the minor personal quirk, to the huge lifestyle dictators. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that the result of scrutinising certain traditions may not result in change, but as time goes by and we advance further, many major traditions will become outdated and hold us back. It is at this point we must learn from these traditions, and use them to improve our future, instead of allowing them to be dragged along with our past. Being intentionally ignorant of the darker side of our history will only ever lead to those same dark sides returning.

As a man who has for so long been a proud follower of history and tradition, this isn’t all that easy to come to terms with. Expecting people to know the precise historical origins of every single thing they do is obviously impossible, but expecting people to question some of the more far-reaching and out-dated traditions cannot be too much to ask, can it?

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2 Comments

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2 responses to ““We’ve just always done it this way” Tradition – Why it should (almost) always be questioned

  1. Jonathan

    And what’s so wrong with the idea of a father giving away his daughter? It’s simply a matter of her going from her father’s care to her husband’s care.

    You talk about tradition as if we need to leave it behind to “progress” to a more “enlightened” and “tolerant” society. Are you aware that the Communists in Russia thought they were “progressing” by forcing people to adhere to their failed, utopian ideology? What irritates me about people who adhere to this strain of thought that views society as continually evolving and “progressing”, is that they often never consider just how many times their utopian ideas have been tried before and failed. We are no more intelligent now than our forefathers were 300 years ago. It’s just that our tools have changed.

    So again, what’s so abhorrent about some Christian traditions that today might be considered by liberals as a little un-PC? They may be contrary to your ideal to strive for a more (to put words in your mouth) atheistic, liberal, secular society; but overall they harm no one and are a source of peace of mind and security in tradition for many.

    Overall though, I enjoyed reading your post 🙂

    • Hi Jonathan! Firstly, thanks for reading and commenting, always nice to know my thoughts aren’t going completely unnoticed.

      I think the issue is with the possessive nature of the giving away process. Do modern women need to be in the care of someone, specifically a male relative?

      The Russian communist ideology is a classic example of progression not always being straight-forward, as is inevitable. Surely though this is not just reasoning for going back to old methods and ideologies? It is human nature to search for better, more efficient ways of doing things, hence why we have become the dominant species on the planet. If – for example – we’d settled on being hunter-gatherers thousands of years ago because farming hadn’t worked first time, where would we be now?

      As for our intelligence not changing, how is it possible for our tools to change without us changing? We create the tools after all. Perhaps our intelligence hasn’t changed, but our way of thinking has, and I put that down in no small part to our history, and learning from it.

      I don’t deny I did feel somewhat self-righteous in my criticism of Christian traditions, and will concede that many are largely harmless. But I would still deem some of these practises harmful in the cases where people had no idea where these traditions have come from. I can’t help but feel like something of a kill joy saying it, but people can’t just act blindly because they don’t want to think about what they’re doing.

      Thanks again for the comment!

      Richard

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