We are inundated with new ideas and new concepts that are both interesting and exciting. Research has shown that people (young adults in particular,) are heavily influenced by their peers and therefore we have a strong tendency to want to latch on to the new ways of thinking that spread through our social peer groups. As we do this, we can sometimes seek to distance ourselves from old family and cultural traditions that keep us from feeling as if we are a relevant participant in the modern world.
As we race through life, though, it is important to think about the real meaning and purpose of traditions.
The primary value of traditions is that they serve as a means of creating and maintaining multi-generational relationships.
Meaningful relationships require some commonality of interest – something that all participants share in. In any society, but in particular, our modern, hectic society, there is often very little that a grandchild has in common with their grandparents, or the janitor has in common with the lawyer. Our traditions can serve as a glue that keeps us together.
Traditions also serve to provide a point of stability in an otherwise unstable world.
Life can be very stressful in the world today. For some reason we humans have a natural need for things to be stable, and for the future to be predictable – anxiety grows when this doesn’t happen. The idea that we know that the family will get together for Thanksgiving, or that the friends will gather together to watch the Super-bowl each year releases this stress and gives us the sense that the world will be OK.
Rejecting the traditions or cultural values of our parents should not be done lightly. We need to recognize that:
One of the greatest motivators for men is to pass on their traditions and values to their children.
In fact, this is the root cause of many of the wars going on today – men cannot stand the idea of their children being taught the traditions and values of other societies and they are willing to kill and die for it.
So before rejecting your parents traditions and ideas of life, it may be a good idea to sit down and talk with them in depth about what these traditions really mean for them and for you. If the tradition is that you sit with the family and eat unleavened bread at Passover, maybe this is one worth keeping as a means of maintaining family relationships even if you would rather be at the ball game.
In some cultures, the oldest son is treated very differently from the younger children. If you are a second generation immigrant, this is exactly the kind tradition that you may find objectionable. In this case, it is important to dig deep and understand the purpose of this tradition and the consequences of following or not following it within our current society. This particular tradition is usually part of a complicated system of social security for the aged. So a discussion of this tradition will likely lead to a conversation on how your parents will be taken care of in their old age.
When you ask parents or grandparents to analyze hurtful traditions that they have kept themselves, you will force them to either admit they have been guilty of inflicting harm, or force them to reject you and your new ideas.
In my book, Essence of Wisdom for Parents, I say that all humans have an almost infinite ability to lie to themselves. If you are confronting parents about traditions like mistreating women, or following a cast system, you must do it with gentleness and respect, otherwise, you will be forcing them to build a wall of lies to protect themselves from the pain and shame of guilt.
So I encourage people to not reject family and community traditions hastily, and if it becomes necessary, to do so with care and compassion for parents and friends who may be hurt by your view. Make sure that you find other ways of building and maintaining these important relationships that the old traditions had otherwise facilitated.
And for parents, understand that it is important for your children that you pass on traditions as well as create new ones for your family to enjoy.
Have you ever struggled with the traditions of your parents? Let us know how you handled it and how your relationships have been impacted since.