Culture and Tradition: Handing Over Gifts

“Tradition” is a Latin-based English word that means “to hand over”.  We can think of tradition both as “captial T” and “little t” as in those big holidays and practices that we share with a larger community and as those practices that are specific to our family or group of friends.  A question for reflection that we can bring to our T/traditions is this:  am I handing over wisdom, help and guidance to the younger generations in this T/tradition, or am I handing the younger generations over to the limits of the T/tradition?

Our best T/traditions seek to hand on wisdom, help and guidance to the younger generations.  Any practice of hospitality, generosity and compassion which also respects the dignity of the human being would be an example of a T/tradition that seeks to instill such guidance.  If we hand on these kinds of traditions which embody both generosity and respect, we have given the younger generations tools for reflection that lead them to their own insights into wisdom, human nature and community.

The example of “giving to others” can take on other forms, often by the very best of intentions.  Perhaps there are times and occasions when “giving to others” is made into a contest.  The person or group that raises the most funds, gives the most goods, etc, will win the contest, receive a prize, etc.  No doubt, the intention is good:  raise a lot of funds/goods for those in need.  The intention and the end effect may not always line up, however.

In these types of T/tradition, a practice and a mindset are being handed on to the younger generation, but the notion of giving is bound by the incentive of winning a game.  The game that is won is played out takes precedence over any knowledge about those who will receive these gathered items. Neither the dignity of those playing the giving game nor the dignity of those receiving the help is respected.  There is little for the younger generation to reflect on because the T/tradition of giving has become just like any other game they play.  There is a goal and a prize, and the object is to beat everyone else.

Some traditions are gifts.  Some are betrayals.  While we like to think of traditions as sacred, they really are just a way of handing something on to the younger generation. There is much there for us to consider and, perhaps, reshape before we hand it on again.

Bob Patrick

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