The Value of Rules Ritual and Tradition

Yes, I believe they have value.

This may be a surprise to some. Many here in Nobleford keep hearing me threaten tradition as if I see no value in it at all and want to do away with it all. I have never said that, nor do I believe that is essential.

In fact, I believe our First Nations populations in their current state is what you get when you strip tradition away completely: a total loss of identity and sense of place in this world.

That said, if you do feel threatened by the way I press at ritual and tradition, it might be a sign you are attached to the action and not the meaning, but that is another post, and… there I go again, trying to grab your cherished traditions away from you. I set out to share how I see them as important.

Those of us that have been children and/or have raised them know that as children we take a kind of a black-and-white view of the world. We take comfort in learning and knowing ‘the rules’ or what is wrong (black) and what is right (white), and we can be pretty rattled and adamant when the rules get broken. This becomes a problem for instance when the children learn to read the speedometer over Dad’s shoulder, and don’t understand that the speed rules are for everyone else or are general guidelines for safety but that a good driver can go a little over them. <insert guilty grin here>

We know that children need the consistency and predictability that those rules give in order to feel secure enough to begin to learn more about our world. If we did not have that security, and for instance it seemed that no matter what we did we got in trouble, and we never understood why (often the case for children of severely dysfunctional or addicted parents) then our desire to explore and learn and grow and take healthy risks will be severely limited. Our fort in the bush, or other hiding spot, away from everyone else, becomes our comfort because there we are just with ourselves in a world we feel we control.

So, understandable rules gave us the safety to grow and learn. We might not have known it at the time as children, but some of those rules may have saved our lives or limbs, such as the rule “Stay away from the lawnmower.” Only in time, as a child matures and shows responsibility, can that rule be flexed or eliminated. Once a child is old enough to learn the very real dangers of a machine, and can learn how to manage those dangers, then the rule can be set aside. This can often confuse and feel unfair to a younger child who does not understand the dangers and how to manage them yet. So once the “why” of a rule can be understood the rule can be lightened up.

As children we also then liked ritual or predictable patterns. Wise parents know that having a set routine for preparing for bedtime will, – when well executed – slow our children (or grandchildren) down and prepare them for sleep. One last brushing of the teeth, some time alone in their room to change into night-clothes, and then a parent coming in to read a book or talk about the day, maybe a song, and then a prayer with them before that final tuck-in, all are rituals that help the child learn to wind down. Truth is, sometimes the parent winds down better than the child, and many spouses have a story to tell of finding the tuck-in duty parent asleep and the child playing. <insert second guilty grin here>

Someone recently reminded me of how tricky it is if you, as the one reading to small children want to speed things up a bit and skip a sentence or even a page in a well-heard book everyone is familiar with. Woe to the one who tries to pull that off! To the child, such a skipping is a violation of the ritual, of the rules that they need for consistency, for safety in life, of their need for black and white.

So children have all these rituals they find comfort and security in. Some even add other comforts, such as thumb-sucking (which seems not so prevalent these days as when I was a child), or a comfort toy or blanket.

We see most of those side-comforts as acceptable… for a time. Thumb sucking as a 20 year old would be frowned upon, and I have not ever seen it, though smoking may well be a continuation… as may other activities. And that is where this gets real interesting to me.

I’m hoping you now understand and agree that most rules and rituals of our early years have value as a base for growing up. And I’m presuming and hoping you agree that most of them have a ‘best before date’ as we do in fact mature and learn to use our own judgment in situations.

But what if we don’t let go? What if we don’t grow beyond the original value of the rules and rituals? What happens then? What if we find our main security in the very rules, rituals and traditions that were supposed to give us the security to grow? What does that look like in a church?

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