Traditions should encourage our best
As I reviewed my scheduling calendar for this fall, I realized how crammed it is with meetings and projects. It seems to me that September and October are always filled with annual events by institutions, sports teams and social causes.
We are called back into the routine of school and winter programming: football, harvest activities and a renewal of organized gatherings. This hustle encourages me to stop the lazy days of summer, to shoulder the realities of living and to get it all done before the beginning of the busy holiday season. The crisping of the air and coloring of the leaves add a sense of urgency to finish all of those tasks.
Have we, as an ‘advanced’ society, just let our commitments get out of hand? Well, perhaps; but I can see a real positive side to all this increased activity. There is a sense of permanence and stability in the repetition of rituals and traditions in our lives. It is often the practice of these cultural traditions that help us gain a sense of who we are and increases our feeling of belonging.
When I discuss the plight of the poorest country in Europe ‘ the little country of Moldova ‘ it is often pointed out to me that they have no sense of national identity. Because they have always been vulnerable to external takeovers by other nations, they are an amalgamation of many countries. With each conqueror has come the enforcement of new ways of working and celebrating and newly-built structures to be used. When a dictator wants to show power, he enforces his nation’s language, religion, political system and social practices. This isn’t the inclusiveness we advocate in the United States; it is an overlay of one culture upon another through conquest.
Tradition in a nation helps people retain their own identity through all the changes that occur. Carried to an extreme, it becomes super-nationalism, which comes with its own list of good and bad consequences.
Look at Japan, with its geographic isolation and commonality of people and practices. Look at how super-nationalism is being used by the Russian Federation today: there are constant references to Mother Russia and inaccurate depictions of the glory days of Russia under the Soviets. The myth of the strength of the Soviet system is carried to ethnic Russians who live in ex-Soviet satellite countries and has been stirring things up in Ukraine in particular. In a struggling country like Moldova, there is the temptation to recall erroneously that things weren’t so bad under the tyranny of the past.
It is always a question on complex and controversial issues of where a person draws the line between what is deemed good and what is deemed bad. A balance between extremes has long been sought by societies; ‘the golden mean’ of the Greeks has been a goal throughout human history.
The question often boils down to this: which of our traditions carry the heritage we want to preserve for future generations? I think within our own holidays, celebrations, memorials and organizations we can each find a lifestyle that reflects our beliefs and commitments.
The hope would be that each of us can find a set of traditions that contain flexibility to grow and an appreciation for others’ differing practices. Do our faith and spiritual beliefs encourage an understanding of other peoples’ divergent views? Do our social values give consideration to those who disagree? Do our economic habits reflect our understanding of the effects of the global economy upon our local economy? This gets pretty sticky in controversial and complex issues. What do we do when freedom of religion and equal protection under the law seem to conflict?
When we talk of preserving and observing traditions, we aren’t just thinking of those occasions when we eat ethnic foods, wear historically correct clothes or sing and dance to folk music. There are many traditions that are unwritten signs of acceptance, support and identification. We hope that these traditions encourage the best within us; unfortunately, they can sometimes lead us astray.
Let’s jump into all this autumn action with eyes wide open to the messages and consequences of our activities.