Sometimes it feels like the planets align. I recently had a most interesting conversation with an adult student regarding school rules. I explained that as a substitute teacher, I of course support school rules, but my emphasis is on values. My bias is that focusing on values is energy efficient and diminishes the need for acting like a policeman and judge, making sure the kids are following all the rules.
Then, when I sat down to write this column, I realized I was truly pressed for time. I considered offering a couple of quotes about traditions and simply encouraging readers to think—really think—about some of our Grange traditions. I thought it would faster. I should have known better. Several of those quotes set my mind to work.
Perhaps because of my conversation less than twenty-four hours prior, this caught my eye:
“… traditions and norms aren’t rules…There’s a difference between a tradition and a law.” (Rick Santelli)
I find myself really thinking about that, particularly as it might apply to the Grange. I find myself wondering if we perhaps are often guilty of confusing tradition with law and rules. I have sat through some painful debates over things like the correct way to turn a corner when doing “floorwork.” When we start using words and phrases like “You have to do it this way…” we are likely making traditions into rules. When a new member walks out of a meeting never to return after he is told he must do something relative to our traditions and rituals, we must plead guilty to thinking traditions are laws.
There is much value to tradition and ritual (those, by the way, might be different) but we should own them; they should not own us.
“…traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world.” (Susan Lieberman)
I don’t expect much argument when I suggest that our current state of society has us longing for some things we can depend on. Kids especially like structure and predictability. One of the challenges of every substitute teacher is consistency—the kids will scrutinize everything we do and quickly point out “That’s not the way we do it when Mrs. Regular Teacher is here!” as if I have committed an unpardonable sin. The younger they are, the less tolerant they are of change. They are simply demonstrating the great comfort found in tradition.
But there is simply no way I’ll get it all “right” and, more importantly, I want them to understand that I won’t be wrong—I’ll just be different. Perhaps some of those differences will be fun and exciting!
I like to think they are learning to balance comfort with challenge. If we don’t develop that skill the world will become a very stressful place to live. Just consider how much the world has changed in your lifetime and how that is impacted your “traditions.” I’ll bet you’ve seen some changes in those traditions. That’s not a bad thing. It’s just different.
We often talk about valuing our tradition and rituals, but sometimes forget that our traditions should reflect our values. Hopefully, we don’t go to Gramma’s house every Thanksgiving just because it’s a tradition or rule. We go to Gramma’s house every Thanksgiving because we value family time together.
While it’s not exactly a straight line, from our values we develop traditions and, perhaps, rules. In my classroom, you will quickly learn that our top value is learning. When we understand and focus on that, the need for rules diminishes as we each become responsible for considering how what we do (and don’t do) supports that value.
So perhaps this month, we do not explore tradition. We instead explore our values individually as an organization. Are the most vibrant and exciting Granges the ones who are focused on guarding tradition—like the kids who yell, “That’s not the way we do it?!” Would you rather sit in a class where everybody is obsessed with not changing anything or a class where everybody is obsessed with learning?
Any degree or ritual quotations are from the forty-sixth edition of the 2013 Subordinate Grange Manual. The views and opinions expressed in “Exploring Traditions” are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official doctrine and policy of the Grange.