Positive Talk

Published on: May 24, 2017

Traditions — a steadying hand at the wheel


There is no one who will argue that we are not in a time of drastic change. In the course of one generation, mankind learned to fly and then to walk on the moon. Technology has made things possible for the common man that just a few years ago could only be dreamed of by kings. There is a tremendous emphasis on original thinking. We are told to stretch our minds and to think outside of the circle — the circle being the way we have always responded to certain stimuli or, as it is now referred to, as our paradigm. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language defines a paradigm (pàr¹e-dìm´, -dîm´) as “An example that serves as pattern or model.” For most of us, this freehand drawing outside of our circle, without pattern or model, can be just a bit scary.

Our society in years past has been guided by what we call traditions. But as New York Times journalist Russell Baker said, “In America nothing dies easier than tradition.” If you are 40 years of age or older, it will be easy for you to list at least 10 traditions from your childhood that are no longer in place today —things like the family having dinner together and two parents who live in the same house with their children. Recently, I held a door for a woman and received a lecture on sexual discrimination before I could explain that my parents taught me if I was the first one to a door, I should hold it open for those following me, regardless of their gender. I will be quick to admit some traditions are not good, and it takes the actions of a Rosa Parks to change them for the better. But what kind of ground do our children have to build on without traditions?

In one Chinese village, tradition was the very ground they built on, or at least the results of tradition improved the foundation. In an area where the ground was soft, this particular village seemed to be built on solid ground. It was also an area of rocky fields and yet the surrounding fields seemed free of stones.

A missionary asked a village elder to explain. The elder said that it had been a tradition that each child who worked in the fields was instructed to bring one stone back to the village each night when returning from the fields. These stones had created the great foundation of the village. In turn, the absence of stones in the fields increased the abundance of the crop.

The missionary asked how long he thought the practice would continue andthe village elder replied, “For as long as the children are taught not only the tradition, but the reason for the tradition.”

Maybe that is where we are failing our children and, in turn, our civilization—by not teaching the “why.”

T. S. Eliot said of tradition, “It cannot be inherited, and if you want it you must obtain it by great labor.” Children cannot be expected to put great labor into following our traditions until we are willing to put great labor into showing them the value of maintaining them. Our children are the product of our efforts, or lack thereof. Traditions can be a steadying hand at the wheel as they face the storms of life. They can act as a compass and even a safe harbor to run to when the gale becomes too fierce. Traditions are rarely if ever passed down to the next generation by adopting a “Do as I say, not as I do,” attitude. Traditions are passed down by the show-and-do method. If you don’t like what your children are doing, take a look at what you are showing them. What traditions are you passing on to them? Have you given them a steadying hand at the wheel or setting them adrift?

William Hodges is a nationally recognized speaker, trainer and syndicated columnist. Phone: 813-641-0816. E-mail:, Website: