May 2nd, 2018 – On a nine-night trip to Germany, I ended up in the city of Munich to explore what they had to offer. I wanted to experience the city outside of the tourist-heavy Oktoberfest for something more genuine. Myself and a group of Colombians discovered they were having a Spring festival and locals were making their way to these large tents which are known for serving beer in massive glass mugs while playing traditional Bavarian music.
Sitting there as an American, I couldn’t help but notice how people were enjoying the tradition of the annual spring gathering. Teenagers were gathered with their friends and kids were sitting alongside their parents singing, smiling and drinking. The men were wearing their traditional lederhosen, and the women were wearing their traditionally styled dresses, which are called Dirndls.
The tradition of gathering in such a fashion, wearing the garments of the past and appreciating their Bavarian culture, only displayed itself as a happy and fun gathering for everyone. It didn’t appear as them attempting to role play but more so them paying homage to old Bavarian traditions even though they are living in modern times.
As I’ve grown into adulthood, my appreciation for tradition has increased and I realized that there is something beautiful about paying respect to the people that came before you. Tradition shows itself in a variety of ways within a particular culture. For example, you can practice certain religious traditions, culinary traditions and celebratory traditions, all of which help to continue the legacy of those that came before you with a level of respect even though times have clearly changed.
That respect that people used to have, in my opinion, is slowly eroding the more technology that we create and the more information we consume. It wasn’t that long ago that indoor plumbing was an extreme luxury and that people had to wait weeks or months to spread information long distances. I believe that many of us have become so used to the American status quo of living today that we couldn’t even imagine a normality of not having easily accessible clean water.
Instead of comparing the past to today with a level of appreciation for what we have today, we look at the past mockingly as we consider these people as being “backwards” in the way they lived, making us self-righteous in our attitude against people who simply lacked resources and thought differently about the world around them. We think because we know how to operate a smart phone that we are intelligent beings but anyone can learn how to use a tool. Transplant someone from the 1800s here, they could do the same thing as you.
Our technological capability today has people behaving as if they are the inventors of the technology that they use on a daily basis, but they are merely consumers of the technology. It’s this inflated ego of the modern American that looks down upon the people before them, making it easier to reject their traditions and harshly judge the way they behaved. We believe we are morally superior to someone from 200 years ago, but we aren’t. We are products of our environment and if you were in their shoes, you would have behaved in the same way. We are harsh in how we view our founding fathers because they had slaves, but if you were wealthy in the 1700s, you would have had slaves too.
It’s this egotism that has us shifting away from religion in its totality. People believe they are becoming secular from a foundational religion, but all they are doing is replacing God’s word with another set of testaments spoken by politicians, celebrities and academics. Popular culture is replacing religious tradition, and I believe part of the reason we are doing this is because we have been trained to be consumers of the new and disregarders of the old. Popular culture is always changing, tradition in itself rarely does.
As a consumer, you have also been trained to always want so-called “progress” in every manageable way, but new isn’t always progress and progress isn’t always desirable. In the early 1900s, if you believed in Eugenics, you were considered progressive but today we can clearly see there is something immoral about Eugenics and the way of viewed people.
Are we threatened by traditions? Maybe in some ways. What if the way people lived for hundreds or thousands of years actually had some meaningful value? What if you realize late in your life that trying to be constantly progressive with new ideas, new philosophies and new cultural norms were detrimental instead of beneficial? Would you continue down that path, or would you be willing to admit that maybe those seemingly chaotic people of the past could be right on some things?
Only a society that doesn’t appreciate tradition would allow for the government to shut down churches during a religious holiday, but hundreds can pack into a Walmart without a care in the world. Only a society that doesn’t care about tradition would allow the government to dictate the value of God in your life by stating that it’s not “essential” but liquor stores are.
We are threatened by tradition because tradition appears to challenge our way of living in modern times. Like the Bavarians I described earlier, these people aren’t dressing this way everyday per se but they adapt it into their lives when it is suitable instead of rejecting it as being old, outdated and unfashionable. Not everything that was done in the past was right and not everything we do today is correct either, but there is value in both, we just need to learn how to adapt it into our present day existence without such egotistical ridicule and judgement.