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Friday, October 2, 2009

Perspective on Tradition: An Open Mind

The most dangerous phrase in the language is,
"We've always done it this way."
- Grace Hopper


A question is asked and the answer returns, "Because we've always done it that way." Perhaps that isn't the most inspiring answer possible, but it reflects at least a moment's consideration of the question, and for me, that's a good thing. Why do you drive a Ford? Because my family has always owned Fords. Okay by me.

However, when a question is asked and the answer is "Huh?" we are dealing with something of an entirely different nature. Let's say you are an American male, and the question is, "Why do you wear pants and a shirt?" "Huh?" Perhaps the actual answer is a snotty, "Because I'd look funny in a dress," but it still means, "Huh? That's not even a question." Of course the reason virtually all American males go into the world in pants and shirt rather than dresses, kilts, kimonos, jumpsuits, pajamas, bathrobe, or whatever is that virtually all other American males wear pants and shirt. Purely cultural.

You're Christian (most denominations), "Why do you take off your hat in church?" "Respect." "How is taking off your hat respectful?" "Huh?" You're Jewish, "Why do you wear a yarmulke (hat) in Synagogue?" "Respect." "How is wearing a hat respectful?" "Huh?" Of course religious experts would have ready references to "answer" the question, but that is just another way of saying, "Because my culture has done it that way for centuries."

The point of this writing is NOT that we SHOULD do anything differently from the way we have "always done it." In many cases, it would be downright foolhardy to buck cultural norms. That the people of some political unit agree to drive on the right (or left) side of the highway is purely cultural, like agreeing to wear or not wear head covering during worship. However, a unilateral personal decision to choose the other side of the road would risk a fine, imprisonment, or grave bodily harm. Same for choosing not to pay taxes, or to refuse military conscription or jury duty.

The point here is not about changing what we do, it's about thinking, about awareness, and about choosing. Become AWARE of the cultural norms that pervade our lives. THINK about the alternatives. CHOOSE, based on free-will.

Usually, our free-will choice will be to do exactly the same as our parents, and our family, and our neighbors. Great! Choosing to drive on the same side of the roadway as our neighbors is going to prevent a great deal of conflict.

Surprisingly often though, starting to question our cultural norms will open new vistas for us. Maybe something as simple as a Northerner discovering they love okra and gumbo. Maybe something as life-altering as the revelation of preferring not to become a parent, or that one's preferred home is a boat or an RV rather than a fixed location.

As an aside about cultural rigidity, as an American citizen, you are REQUIRED to be a resident of one of the 50 states and to have a fixed address. Legally, you can't "live" on a boat or in an RV, although millions do, and arbitrarily choose a state and drop box as their legal address. Question: "Why does one have to be a legal resident of one of the 50 states rather than just a resident of the United States as a whole?" Answer: "Huh?" Cultural norms change very slowly.

4 comments:

  1. I agree totally, however happiness and sadness are also learned in the home, as well as abuse. We can grow and chose to change how we decide to live. Cultural Awareness is a big deal when so many different culture in the same area's, the most important thought should be, respect each others cultural differances and god bless them, then go on with your life. To each his/her own and everyone smil:)

    ReplyDelete
  2. "I yam what I yam!"

    Popeye the Sailor Man

    ReplyDelete
  3. To be a parent and chose to raise your kids a certain way, opposite of your own childhood is changing the cultural norms of your family. This would be especially true if you were abused as a child by one or both of your parents. You would want to "break" that cultural norm.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hence, "UNITED" States. Bingo. Thank you for this.

    ReplyDelete

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