“Tradition is a guide and not a jailer” (W. Somerset Maugham).
MODERN LIFE IS SUCH THAT WE DON’T HAVE MUCH CHANCE TO REMEMBER HOW GOOD TRADITION IS, BUT TRADITION IS A GOOD THING NONETHELESS. Its value is too rarely recognized nowadays. Our culture seems to be dominated by those who see tradition as something to be destroyed, and even if that weren’t the case, the pace of change right now makes it difficult for traditions to survive the constant onslaught of new fads and fashions. But today, let’s pause to remember the value of customs that have been time-tested.
To be sure, blind adherence to tradition is not good. As T. S. Eliot said, “A tradition without intelligence is not worth having.” We need to think about our traditions, sometimes even critically. The person who never wants any tradition to be changed — not even if the change would improve it — is a person who has missed the point. Sometimes traditions have outlived their usefulness and need to be laid aside completely. But more often, our traditions need to be open to growth and adaptation. A very old oak tree is a “traditional” thing to be appreciated, but it didn’t get to be old by refusing to bend!
That said, most of us still need to be reminded about the value of tradition. For every person whose problem is uncritical adherence to tradition, there now seem to be many more who have the opposite problem: hypercritical rejection of tradition. We’re too quick to toss aside ideas and ways of doing things that our forebears found worthy of preservation. For us, history has had only two epochs: the Dark Ages and us. This is what C. S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery.”
But we impoverish ourselves sadly when we neglect the traditions that form the tapestry of our personal history. Not only our lives but also our characters are enriched by wise respect for tradition. And the wholesome enjoyment of customs that connect us to bygone days is one of life’s most rewarding experiences. So today, be truly radical. Dare to do something your great-grandparents might have done!
“Few people have ever seriously wished to be exclusively rational. The good life which most desire is a life warmed by passions and touched with that ceremonial grace which is impossible without some affectionate loyalty to traditional forms and ceremonies” (Joseph Wood Krutch).