When tradition becomes unhealthy it is time to reconsider what we’ve inherited


It’s almost Thanksgiving! As Americans, our gut reaction to this thought is always the same. You can see it right now like a Norman Rockwell painting — a pile of mashed potatoes, white and fluffy, sparkling cranberry sauce, some form of mildly dubious sweet potato dish that your grandmother always brings, soft rolls and in the center of the table the piece de resistance, the turkey, the traditional Thanksgiving centerpiece.

Turkey and Thanksgiving are almost simultaneous thoughts. One can hardly think of one without the other. My personal experiences with Thanksgiving are entirely turkey-centered, although one year my mom got a little wild and made a ham. Either way, turkey is a regular, classic Thanksgiving tradition. 

Tradition is the center of many ingrained thoughts and ideals we ascribe to.We pick up ideas from religion and our views of ourselves as a nation or collective. Over the span of years we adopt our traditional values and ideals into how we experience life. Family tradition grows as a small subset of that, passed from generation to generation as a bond between those involved. 

As we grow as a nation and as individuals, we come to a place where we need to examine tradition for ourselves. Although many of the traditions we experience are harmless and enjoyable, others become arcane or hurtful over time. The world we experience now is vastly different from the world in which many of the traditional ideals that we are accustomed to were created. When political or national traditions become harmful and restrictive rather than meaningful, it is time to let them go. 

As time passes and our experiences change, we can and should shift how we experience traditions without losing the importance of them. We can create new traditions, and pass on ideas that are more inclusive, better representing the way the world has changed. 

Think about your own life and what tradition means to you. The ways in which you choose to follow or break with the traditional and cultural norms determine how you move through the world and view life. Leaving behind long-held traditional ideals that no longer contribute meaningfully to life the way we live it now is a sign of growth rather than regression. Abiding by ideals that have become hurtful and restrictive because ‘that’s just how things are done’ can be detrimental in a world that no longer looks the way it did when those ideas were put into place. The world changes, and we can change with it without losing our core values and belief systems.

While discussing “traditional values,” think about the society that made them and how time has changed how we experience life. The ideals that we might ascribe to as traditional and unchanging have inevitably changed over time themselves. 

As counter intuitive as it might seem to consider letting go of tradition in a season so steeped in them, this is actually the perfect time. It’s healthy and important to challenge the ideals that we take for granted as we grow through life. Ask why you follow the traditions and traditional ideals that you ascribe to, and how they can both benefit and hold you back. Maybe you will find that some things need a change, just like my mom did when she made us a Thanksgiving ham.