Thursday, November 30, 2006

TRADITIONS

A good friend of mine is a charter member of the “Here and Now Society.” He has not one pore of nostalgia on his person. He praises aluminum siding and eschews cedar shingles. He salivates when cobblestones are paved over with asphalt. There is not a vox populari which he does not immediately embrace … from late-term abortions (“unto the sixtieth trimester”) to “The Da Vinci Code” (“a welcome ray of truth”). Tradition to him is anathema. And many more like him believe that a predilection toward “out with the old and in with the new” is the reason that the United States does so well competitively in world commerce.

On the other hand, Tevye sang it well when he lauded the value of tradition in “Fiddler on the Roof”:

”Who, day and night, must scramble for a living,
Feed a wife and children, say his daily prayers?
And who has the right, as master of the house,
To have the final word at home?

(Chorus) Tradition!”

Few cultures value tradition as much as the Jews or the English. The English follow ceremonies that go back to the Middle Ages (e.g., pampering the ravens at the Tower of London. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tower_of_London ). One has to only watch a regal coronation in England to see an outpouring of obscure traditions that are nevertheless followed to the letter … or, likewise, a Jewish Seder.

The question is: What is the true value of tradition, particularly insofar as Dartmouth is concerned? Clearly, the dropping of the tradition of seniors breaking their clay pipes on the stump of the Old Pine in the BEMA was not of major consequence, particularly if done without political rancor. (I still remember having to go to the Smoke Shop to buy my clay pipe before this rite.) However, this ceremony did commemorate a transition from college life to real life and, if it had been so represented to the students, would have been of great value. The trouble was that this was not the case. We were just going through the motions. And so this tradition was susceptible and, as such, was open to be attacked for reasons outside of its true meaning. And so it was and so it was dropped.

Again and again this has been the case (as documented in this blog.) I guess my point is that traditions are good in so far as they connect actions of the present to the lessons of the past … with alacrity and clarity. If the powers-to-be at our college refuse to do this, then it is they who are wiping out the footprints of those who came before us … and tarring over the cobblestones.

2 comments:

Any Stray Marks said...

"If the powers-to-be at our college refuse to do this, then it is they who are wiping out the footprints of those who came before us … and tarring over the cobblestones."

This blog, by assuming that traditions must be created (and could possibly be eradicated) only by administrators displays a fundamental bias against students.

Students perform whatever traditions they want until they are convinced otherwise. If most students wanted to use the Indian mascot, they would.

Tim Dreisbach '71 said...

Any Stray Marks missed the point.

Traditions fail when they become mere "going thru the motions". Traditions survive, and add enduring value, when the meanings behind the traditions are preserved.

This can be passed on by students before they depart, or by the administration, but it is the latter who have the historical perspective and time to better do so.... not the "execution" of the tradition, but the retaining and preserving of the underlying rationale.

And another group is even better positioned... FORMER students! That is why this site may have a lasting purpose and value.