The Meaninglessness of Tradition

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"Tradition is the reason for doing something you can no longer thing of a reason for doing."
For those who don't follow this comic strip, Rat is the cynic. He's arrogant and constantly puts others down, seeing only the bad in everyone but himself. Hence, Goat's statement about hating when he agrees with Rat. But in this case, I believe Rat has hit the nail on the head. So today, we'll be looking at tradition, and why it's really so irrelevant. First, let's look at a story. I've heard it told as a joke. It may or may not be true.

A man was participating in a competition and after winning, he was given a ham as a prize. Delighted, he went home and presented it to his wife, who decided that she would cook it for dinner. She promptly set it on the counter and cut off one end of it.
"What are you doing?" the man cried. "Why are you chopping up my prize ham?"
"That's how you cook a ham," she replied.
But her husband still wasn't convinced.
"That's how my mother always did it," she insisted, "but I'm not quite sure why." So she called up her mother and asked, "Why do you cut off one end of a ham before cooking it?"
"I don't know," was the response. "But that's always how my mom did it." So they called up her mother, the first woman's grandmother. They explained the situation to her and asked again, "Why do you cut off one end of a ham before cooking it?"
The woman responded, "Well, I don't know why you two are doing it, but my pan was too small!"

In this situation, we see how being taught one way caused the two women to act a certain way without understanding it. We see another example in the TV show Babylon 5, where Londo tells a tale of a princess who commanded a guard to stand in one place to keep watch over the first flower of spring. Later, she forgot about the command, and never cancelled the order. So every day for 500 years, a guard would stand in that one place, even though there was really no reason anymore.

Now, I'm not claiming that tradition is evil. But it must be accompanied by reason. If tradition is truly the only reason, then you have no reason for performing a task except that it's what everyone else does. It's what you're expected to do. Rather, tradition is meaningless. Meaningless is not said in a negative sense, but a neutral sense. It does not qualify as a reason for or a reason against. So when you find yourself asking why and the only reason is because "that's what we've always done," it may be time to step back and look again at the situation.
"Just because something is traditional is no reason to do it, of course."
-Lemony Snicket

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