Traditions are deeply woven into our social fabric. They are solidly embedded in the backbones of religions, clubs, social groups, businesses, and cultures, defining them and connecting their members on a deeper, sometimes spiritual, level. I emphasize the word “backbone” because traditions really do play a supportive role. People tell stories about how, in their search for identity, they rediscover a tradition and reach some flavor of nirvana. These stories should certainly be honored and appreciated in their own right.
As social creatures, we naturally want to feel connected to one another and ideally to our communities, and traditions facilitate that. When uncertainties or difficult times plague the present, we often rely on traditions to call upon the past to guide us and remind us that without the happenings and sufferings of the past, we wouldn’t be where we are today. After all, old customs and rituals have survived so long, so they are often seen as testaments to endurance and reliability. Overall, humans haven’t changed too much. We still have largely the same tendencies, don’t we?
It is, however, that exact attitude that can dangerously hinder progress. If we want improvement (and I’m fairly certain that we do – otherwise, we wouldn’t be buying or doing anything to make our lives better, would we?!), we should not be afraid of, at the very least, asking the critical questions, such as:
- Why does this tradition benefit the entity I am part of?
- Does this tradition benefit the greater good?
- Is this tradition actually destructive or offensive? To someone else? To something? To Mother Earth? To an entire group of people?
- Is this tradition actually good for me?
Challenging tradition is often perceived as questioning the legitimacy of the entity it is associated with, or worse – the morphing of an entity into something it was not meant to be. Change can be scary, especially when tradition is all we have ever known. What would a marriage be without a wedding is like asking what would pancakes be without a generous dose of syrup, or what Halloween would be if we substituted carrots for pumpkins, or how we would salute America without all the songs and customs that are performed at sports events and other public events. But we need agents of change to challenge tradition – otherwise, issues like women’s rights and racial equality would not have made any progress.
These are the kinds of questions that bring us to minimalism. Who would we be without our stuff? What would I do if I give up so and so activity? Without constantly defining and redefining the priorities in our lives, our paths would be quite linear, wouldn’t they? And linear is comfortable. Blindly following a tradition is easy…and dare I say it, lazy. You don’t need to perform any critical thinking whatsoever. Questioning, challenging, and if it comes down to it – breaking tradition – is necessary for change, and change is necessary for progress. Like most things in life, questioning tradition is also difficult to do, and even more difficult to do so outwardly.
I like to believe that there is always a way to improve our lives and the lives around us, if we use our oft-ignored imagination and creativity. Blindly following what always was is easy – just turn off your brain and do something for the sole reason that it was always done that way (if you work in business, I’m sure you have heard this phrase at least once).
We don’t always need to change the status quo, but we should always be looking for ways to do what we do better. I started by changing my own status quo. Tap into your creative mindset and move forward with as much courage as you can muster.