Whether you love cultural heritage or hate it, think it’s worthless or priceless, it’s sometimes our only tangible connection to the past. When photos aren’t taken and stories aren’t written down, or we only have an ancestor’s name and a grave, we know that they at least contributed to the survival and development of different traditions and we are connected to them when we remember or take part in them.

I don’t want to go so far as to make the generalization that modern society doesn’t see value in tradition. Nor do I want to assume anything about the current generation: they’re as varied a group of people as any. So I won’t.

Instead, I want to discuss how we got to where we are. Maybe this is only anecdotal, but it does seem like people value, practice, or at least respect tradition less than they used to. Not the kind created by any one family or generation, though those are valuable too. I’m talking about those passed down through generations: recipes, cultural traditions, regional dialects.

Maybe there’s a reason for it. Over time, maybe these things became immutable. They were canonized as perfect, holy. They were tied to a specific, dated way of thinking, or some form of prejudice. There was no room for alteration, and people broke away. That’s understandable: for someone struggling with a culture that they find restrictive or intolerant of different ways of thinking, that they would want to break away from everything associated with it. Or it could be that the shift from a rural, agrarian society to an urban, industrialized one broke the hold that tradition had on people. It’s probably some combination of the two, and many other factors.

But once these things stop being practiced by people, that’s it. They’re done. They cease to be living, breathing things, for better or for worse. They become frozen in museums, behind glass cases, artifacts rather than everyday objects.

This doesn’t mean that I think that people should readopt every single tradition passed down from their family, or even any of them. For some people, it’s just not a major part of their lives, and that’s okay. In other cases, they just don’t apply; others are too steeped in the uglier parts of our thinking and history.

But this is a different time. We’re no longer bound to any particular way of thinking. Those practices don’t have to be immutable or sacred; they can be molded to the individual and modernized for today. What you don’t like, throw out: if it’s boring or narrow-minded or sexist, change it. These things would have to adapt to survive, and so far, they haven’t.

So I leave you to think about this: what’s your relationship with tradition? If you do honor it, why, and do you think there are things that should be changed? If you don’t, would a new take on it change your mind? And, most of all, what do you lose when it’s gone?

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