I know plenty of folks love them – they’re like a bridge to the past, almost a reminder that time will not erase everything as it marches forward.
And I know plenty of folks hate them. If they ask why they should do something and you say “it’s tradition!”, they’ll snarl and say “that’s not a reason!”
The insult against traditions is they’re solutions to problems we’ve forgotten.
It’s supposed to imply that we don’t need them… but if you’ve forgotten the problem, how do you know it won’t come back?
Agrarian societies are rich in traditions that preserve hard-won knowledge.
On the first day of frost, dig up those crops and plant this grass in their place – that sort of thing.
Ask them why they do that and you’ll get two answers: a nonsense one like it ‘appeases the spirits’…
… or it’s tradition.
Or it’s like the thing with chicken soup. If you’re under the weather, tradition says to have some. It turns out to be an amazing source of the nutrients your body needs in that moment – better than most alternatives. Decide that you want to buck history and have tomato soup instead, and you’re not better off for it.
Toss that wisdom away for no reason and you’re worse off.
Sometimes traditions are arbitrary, outdated nonsense, and sometimes they contain useful strategies.
It’s harder to tell the difference than you realise.
Here’s a tradition that we hogtied in 2019… and tossed in the river in 2020:
If you’re standing under mistletoe with someone, you have to kiss them.
I have no idea what, if any, benefits that tradition has over the hundreds of others surrounding Christmas.
But I wonder how many office parties won’t hang it anymore. It’s begging for an HR incident – and would insurance even save you against a lawsuit for inappropriate behaviour?
And that was last year – before folks were terrified of shaking hands, let alone kissing strangers.
Blowing out candles on a birthday cake – unless that cake’s of the ‘cup’ variety, that won’t be coming back anytime soon.
But if some traditions are useful, some no longer fit the times and most don’t matter much either way…
How do you tell the difference?
Short of stopping the tradition, you can’t – no one can predict the future.
For complex problems like this with many hidden variables, your unconscious intuition is very clever.
It’s not perfect but it’s still a genius.
If you sometimes struggle to hear its wisdom… or you can’t tell this voice you can trust from all the others in your mind…
… it’s time to train your inner perceptions: