Thursday, October 19, 2006


The word of the day is:


Like duty, tradition is a loaded word, a double-edged sword. To conservatives, tradition is considered almost synonymous with what is good. They often defend certain customs, practices, and beliefs by pointing to tradition. To say "We've always done it that way!" is an appeal to tradition.

Obviously, such reasoning can fail. Tradition, in and of itself, is neither inherently good or bad.

Up until the Civil War, slavery was certainly "traditional" in the US, but it certainly wasn't a tradition we needed to continue. The Catholic Church continues to bar women from the priesthood, largely because it's not traditional. Priests have always been male, they say, so in their reasoning, they always should be male. Currently, those against gay marriage point to tradition, underlining the fact that marriage has traditionally been between men and women (at least they can't factually say that monogamy is the only "traditional" form of marriage!). In these instances, it is wrong and short-sighted to insist upon continuing a tradition, no matter how much it hurts real people. Traditions are meant to benefit people; people aren't meant to benefit traditions.

But tradition isn't always bad or necessarily a sign of conservatism. Many times benign traditions make us feel connected to our pasts and our families, as in the ways we celebrate holidays. Keeping certain traditions such as these help us to remember and feel close to family members who are no longer with us. I know when my sister sends me Christmas cookies she made from my mother's recipe through the mail, I think of my mother fondly and I know these cookies connect both my sister and I to the same memory.

So, to me, tradition is neither a sacred cow, nor is it something I automatically reject out of hand. I accept what is meaningful and relevant to me and I disregard the rest. Another alternative is to create new traditions of one's own -- after all, even the old traditions had to start somewhere.

What does tradition mean to you?

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