I’ve been thinking a lot about tradition. Tradition, for our purposes, is passing of customs or beliefs from generation to generation. Traditions make people part of a larger group. They give people a sense of belonging. The more a person relies on that group as a part of their identity, the more important those traditions become. Because of that and the natural inertia people have toward change, traditions can be hard to change and can be the basis for bad decision making. Traditional gender roles, for example, aren’t inherently bad, but rigid adherence to gender roles that limits the contribution of talented individuals is objectively suboptimal for the group.
The corporations that I work for are much more cognizant of their culture than individuals and groups. They put a lot of time into attempting to create and change traditions among employees. The quintessential example of bad decision making based on tradition is continuing to do something inefficiently or in an unsafe way because “that’s how we’ve always done it.” The problem I see corporations face is that a job is less and less what people use to define themselves. Thus, they are loathe to adopt corporate traditions.
Traditions give people a feeling of inclusion, but I think the reverse is also true. Groups that make people feel included passively create traditions. If we can accept that people generally need groups and connection, they will tend to form groups of like-minded individuals. They will naturally influence each other and adopt certain aspects of each other’s culture. My children, for example, will be influenced by me and that influence will affect behavior which will create tradition.
I went to a baptism yesterday for a child of a friend. The pastor read a verse comparing children to a quiver of arrows. The parents had been assigned to come up with the values they wanted to aim their little arrows (their children) at. I heard things like honesty and integrity which are good. This, in a nutshell, is the practice of intentional tradition making. I like it, but I think it must be a practice rather than a decision.
So, where do we want to point our arrows? What traditions are we going to choose for ourselves? I’m choosing them in pairs because I think too much of anything is toxic (but that’s another post). I choose honesty and kindness. I choose accountability and empathy. I choose discipline and adventure. I choose routine and innovation. I choose preparation and agility. I choose skepticism and teamwork.