My question of the day: what value does tradition really hold? This question came to me when I was recently watching the 2003 movie, "Last Samurai." If you're not familiar, the movie was based in Japan in the late 1870's. It starts with a Civil War veteran (played by Tom Cruise) who is unhappily employed as a storyteller. He unenthusiastically retells a war story to a captive audience at a fair. Despite his apathy, this was such a reminder of the lack of communication technology from their time--no phones, no emails, no blogs, no texting. They literally had live entertainment or none at all. One of their mainstays, also shown in the movie, was keeping handwritten notes in journals.
While watching Tom Cruise's character write about his day, a thought came to me: why is tradition so important to our culture? It seems to me that possibly it developed a lot of value simply because it was the best way to "learn from the past" before there was an established way to teach it. In a time when mass-produced books (and therefore global knowledge) were not easily accessible, what would be a convenient and efficient way to teach a lesson? Through oral (or written) tradition.
Tradition is important in Japan. In the movie, samurais practiced tradition as an invaluable standard in their lives. But is tradition meant as a tool to not repeat mistakes? To encourage behaviors that just worked? What if you discover something that works better? Wouldn't it behoove you to change your tradition?
This question is personal to me because my father places a large value on it as well. During my senior year in high school, when I started to attend University Baptist Church in Clear Lake with some friends, I often had conversations with my dad, a United Methodist minister, about what it meant to be a Baptist versus a Methodist, amongst other denominations, and what stuck in my head the most was my dad's emphasis on tradition. He said to me something to effect of, "What about what we've been doing for thousands of years? What happens to all of these traditions? All of the Eucharist and traditional prayers? These Baptists seemingly throw this all out of the window when they do their service." My dad is a man that functions deeply through wisdom, so there are times I must let what he says sink in and chew on it. Maybe there's a nuggest of gold I had yet to discover.
Yet, here I am, a decade later, and it seems this nugget I've been chewing on is still just rock. At what point is it acceptable to throw out tradition? What if you find something that works better? Is tradition passe? Is it something of the past?
Living in this global world has made me reconsider the high value placed on these customs. What are we learning by blindly doing what people have been doing for years? In American society, historically, women should only speak when spoken to, should not hold office or a religious office of power, and should be in charge of the house cleanliness. These customs are not only viewed as archaic nowadays, but to some, highly offensive. But there are still those that say these traditions should still hold true because they "work."
I haven't led the life I've led by following tradition. Though I was raised in a very specific denomination of Christianity (United Methodism), I later found that I did not always find what I was being taught to relate to my experience. The biggest factor was coming out gay. I was told that my instincts, behaviors, and beliefs of what I found to be loving were unnatural, sick, and not accepted. I refused to be a part of a religion/denomination that only accepted part of my beliefs. I went on the search to find a spiritual movement that aligned with ALL of my beliefs. And I have found that through my church now called Sacred Center. All of the clergy are trained through an interfaith seminary for 2-4 years. And our Center has 9 core beliefs that I align with completely and whole heartedly because I know them to be true. But along the lines of tradition, we are considered nontraditional because we're new. Well, aren't all new things nontraditional?
All things considered, there was a time when Christianity was a deep break from tradition. There was a time in Egypt when women were in power. There was a time in our Earthly existence as humans when our brains were not developed enough to hold any kind of tradition beyond instinctual behaviors we repeated: eating, hunting, sex, surviving, etc. So I say go for it. If a tradition doesn't serve you, try or create something new. As Gandhi famously (allegedly) said, "Be the change you wish to see in this world."
To be clear, this is not an argument to throw out all tradition, condemn others' traditions, or to say I don't enjoy traditions myself. I only ask out loud if tradition should hold value if you found something that works better? If tradition is to have only white males as President and Vice President of the USA, then this last election should have been canceled. Yet, we still move on boldly into our new future.
What do you think?