The Value of Tradition In Today's Society
Updated: Aug 27, 2019
Controversy, controversy, controversy.
That is what I hear when I look into the whole issue of the value of tradition in today’s society. In a progressive society, the very word “tradition” is almost a curse word to some who think it simply has no current relevance and is meant to oppose change. On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who still hold fast to the tenets of tradition and never budge, no matter how much things change.
Is that really all there is to tradition though? Is it so black and white that you’re either for it or against it? Perhaps. Or, perhaps there is another way. Author James F. Keenan, S.J., once wrote, “tradition is always progressive, developing, and constantly calling us to receive it, enrich it, and humanize it.”
Is it possible then, that tradition is much more valuable to a progressive society than it is given credit for in some circles, and more malleable than it’s seen in others?
Purposes of Tradition
Traditions bring people together. Both families and the wider society.
Traditions allow us to express our gratitude to those who have made a radical difference in our history, our present and ultimately our future.
Tradition reminds us of our history. The struggles and successes of our predecessors and the lessons they learned.
Tradition gives us pause and space for reflection and planning.
Tradition transfers customs, knowledge, and culture.
It is easy to confuse progress with the erosion of tradition, but in actuality, tradition is the driving force of change. I know, I know, that all sounds like a paradox but its true.
Tradition and it’s many faces
The transference of knowledge is a foundational part of every society. Trace societies throughout history and you will see that this has not changed. From sages and story-tellers to village classes, home-schooling, and formal schools, education has always formed a part of any culture.
Wet nurses, nannies, au pairs and day-care are different versions of the very same thing. Single parent households, two-parent households, and extended families all understand the importance of protecting and nurturing the young ones and providing for their needs. This has never changed.
The face of the working world has changed many times over. We are no longer hunters and gatherers, and more value is now being placed on modern entrepreneurship as opposed to the industrialization model or the workforce but at the heart of it all is the need to earn and provide for self and family.
Family structures appear to be ever-changing and we can already anticipate the shifts that are brewing in some parts of the world. The tradition remains the same though. The function of the family structure will remain unchanged, even if the structure itself changes.
An appointed leader or a council of leaders responsible for the welfare of his/its people is another example of a part of our culture that was passed down through tradition. As with all the others, the face of “government” has changed throughout the ages but the function has not.
These are a few institutions within which traditions are manifested, but the consistency of tradition remains undeniable. The tradition is not the face of the institution or the structure itself but the core and function of it.
With the increase of knowledge and the advancement of technology, there is no way that things will remain the same on the outside, but human beings crave stability and consistency and this is exactly what traditions provide. Human nature is inherent. Our struggles, desires, and ambitions remain the same regardless of the age in which we live. The goal will be different, but the heart will not.
Ardis Whitman, author, and lecturer once said, “each generation must take nourishment from the other and give knowledge to the one that comes after.” This is the definition of progress but it is also the definition of tradition. A borrowing from the past to inform the present and guide the future. If we do not know who we are, where we’re coming from and how we overcame, then all the lessons that we learned as a collective species would be a waste.
Tradition allows us to hold on to these lessons while forging ahead. It encourages us to remember while inspiring us to grow, change, think and question the events around us. It warns us not to foolishly repeat the mistakes of the past and dares us to make bold leaps into the future.
So yeah, do I think there is still value to tradition in our current society? Absolutely.
Do I believe progress is necessary for our society? Most definitely. Does one prevent the other? Not at all. The roadblock to progress has never been tradition, but the misunderstanding of it and its true purpose, as well as the fear of changes, but if tradition has taught us anything, it is that change is and will always be inevitable.
“No one ever finds life worth living - one has to make it worth living.”
– Winston Churchill