Jason hunted with his father and brothers from age 5 to 15, but he was the worst shot of them all. Everyone knew why he shrugged off the constant teasing all those years. Hunting season was much more than a test of skill–it was the feast afterward, the laughter, the stories, and being part of something special. It was the only solid tradition shared by the men and boys in Jason’s family.
One summer in his mid-teens, Jason and his friends were shooting tin can targets in the backyard for money. With uncanny precision, he beat every single kid in the neighborhood. He wasn’t just good–he was gifted.
He had faked it all those years.
As a boy, even with his fathers’ hands on the gun guiding his own, he would jerk the rifle at precisely the right moment, saving the deer and even warning them away. He couldn’t bring himself to kill an animal.
He was silent because he knew how important tradition was to his father.
Traditions come in all shapes and sizes. When I tried to organize this year’s annual holiday get-together with three of my friends, I was surprised by the hesitant yes’s. No one said ‘no,’ but their agreement was reluctant at best. I could have pushed ahead and ignored the signs, but that wouldn’t do any of us any good. There must be something better in store for all of us.
I cancelled, and they expressed relief. We see each other all the time, so how could I pin expectations onto one day just because it’s ‘tradition’? This time of year can be overwhelming enough, and I had no intention of adding to their stress.
This made me think about what tradition actually means. Author Sonya Choquette says tradition is just another word for patriarchy. I had a sense of what she meant–that tradition could stifle progress–but it wasn’t until I looked up the origins of the word that it truly landed for me.
The word ‘tradition’ is actually biblical in origin, and traces back to the time of Moses. To us, it could represent something beautiful like a passed down custom or a family ritual that we look forward to, but it also means “adhering to what is commonly accepted.”
Originating from the Latin traditionem, it also means “delivery, surrender, a handing down, a giving up.” One author calls tradition ‘the democracy of the dead’ because it gives our long-gone ancestors the power to vote about what we do today.
In this rapidly changing world, why would we organize our lives around the choices of 100 years ago? Take my friends for example. They are working mothers with young children and rarely have a moment to themselves. They have every right to claim their own schedules, create rituals that feel good in the moment, and not ‘obey’ a tradition. We might choose to get together over the holidays one year, a second year, and even a third. But as soon as someone insists it become ‘tradition,’ it takes on an energy of grasping.
We know everything changes, but we can still find ourselves thinking “this feels so good I never want it to end.” Maybe we do this when we don’t trust there is more goodness to come in the future?
Tradition is not good or bad. It is only as healthy as the intention behind it. If the intent is obedience due to fear of change, it can be harmful. If the intent is preserving memories and reuniting people, it can be healthy.
I love the traditions I share with my friends and family, especially when they make sense for everyone and respect free will. With the passing of my mother this year, I realize at a deeper level that even the most sacred things must change. I’m healthier when I hold tradition loosely. Releasing my grasp on ‘the way it was’ allows me to flow more fluidly through change.
So how do we decide which traditions to keep, and which to break? Here are some questions to consider:
1) Where did the tradition come from, and does its’ essence still fit your values?
2) Do you love it? If you don’t love it–leave it. (this doesn’t mean that you never do things for others selflessly)
3) Do other people love it? If they don’t, do they have a right to decline without being rejected?
4) Do you try to make other people fold into your traditions? Do you use guilt to get people to participate? Remember, if it’s not good for them, it’s not really good for you either.
5) Does it harm anyone near or far? For example, traditions that involve unconscious consumerism can harm children in other countries through child labor and unsafe working conditions.
6) Most importantly, does it feed your soul–does it uplift, inspire, and heal you and others?
If we are going to make brave changes in this world and heal our planet, it begins at home. It can feel easier to follow the old ways, but questioning our traditions to see if they still fit makes way for the new energies that want to come in.
Our ancestors had their say, and now it is up to us to decide.
Embracing the future also requires honoring the young people, like Jason, when our traditions don’t fit their reality. Long after we are gone, if we have done our job to empower them, they will choose their own way. They will create their own world.
Your thoughts are so interesting to me. In the comments below, I’d love to hear what you think. Did this resonate, push your buttons, or neither?
To your freedom,
With love, Tamika