Does tradition impede progress?

A friend said something to me the other day that got me thinking, “That would be a sign of progress, they don’t want progress here.” Without getting into specifics of the conversation, it really got me thinking, could it be possible that holding on to tradition impedes progress?

That could be a hard pill to digest. I mean we all have traditions, some we hold tightly, dearly. We cling to them in the name of religion, we hold them tightly in the name of culture.

Think for a moment of the Confederate flag. Since the end of the American Civil War, this single tradition, has continued political, philosophical, cultural and racial controversy in the United States. According to, the primary issue that led to the disruption of the union was the debate over the future of slavery. The dispute over slavery led to secession and secession brought about war.The South fought against the North to establish independence as a new confederation of states under its own constitution, one which essentially permitted slavery. I have no desire to dictate history here, there are plenty of websites for that.  Instead, I would like to point to recent controversy over the use of the Confederate flag, the symbol most Americans associate with that war, in modern states, schools, etc. 155 years later, part of the Nation clings to this image, one that brings real fear to the hearts of an entire race, in the name of tradition. Is that tradition one we should hold dear? Be proud of? In the name of tradition, do we hold on to things that impede progress? If we claim culture and tradition as a reason to hold on to something that is so hurtful to others, what exactly is the history, culture and tradition we are trying so desperately to preserve? Why would we want to cleave to an emblem that reminds us of one of the worst moments in the history of our country… in the name of tradition? Is this the tradition we are holding so dear?

Why do we celebrate the things that make us different rather than the things that make us the same? Are we not all the same human race? How many atrocities have been committed in the name of religious tradition? Many of the greatest wars in the history of man have been fought in the name of religion. Yet, religious tradition continues to be at the root of much of our world strife today. Much of what we cling to in the name of tradition is religious in nature. Yet, most, if not all religious texts teach tolerance and shun hatred and murder. Clinging to tradition too tightly, to an extreme, breeds hatred and leads to murder. It is in the history books, for our own eyes to see.

Many times we claim to hold on to tradition in the name of preserving history, religion, culture. Perhaps it is time we look at what history we are clinging to. There are times in human history, where nations progressed and times we would rather not recall. Is holding on to traditions from history impeding progress, prohibiting evolution?

Do we preserve some traditions to remember things we would all do better forgetting? I suppose that would come with the expense of forgetting something we need to remember, but we want to remember so we don’t repeat history. But the history books are there to remind us, music and movies and books all remind us of the atrocities of history, so I don’t think we will soon forget. But, holding onto something that demonstrates pride in that atrocity, that is not necessarily something to the benefit of society as a whole.

It used to be tradition, to beat your misbehaving kids… should we frame the switch and take pride in it? I suppose there are still those around from a generation that remain proud of whipping their children. There are some that believe we spoil our children today, some that believe children are misbehaved, selfish and out of control because we no longer beat our children. A difference of opinion from a different generation who lived in a different time.  Should we preserve the tradition or has progression in human psychology deemed this another atrocity?

As science advances and the human mind expands, the parameters of our mind expand and we further our ability to learn from our mistakes. We understand things about hygiene that advance medical practices, beyond traditional beliefs, we understand the causes of disease and the mechanism of transmission so we establish practices to prevent infection. We understand nerve endings and develop better, stronger more effective ways to numb pain. Should we cling to old medicinal practices that have been proven ineffective in the name of culture and tradition?

If the purpose of progress is evolution and we continue to celebrate our differences and cling to tradition, are we impeding our progress as a human race? Do we impede our evolution as a species by clinging to the things that make us different, rather than celebrating the things that make us the same? I am not sure what the final goal of evolution is, or if there is one, but, the world continues to fight over culture, race and religion, all the things that make us different. Pointing out our differences make us riot, fight and even war over them. While I agree that the basics of human rights allow us all the freedom to choose our own beliefs, I also believe when we cling to those beliefs in the form of tradition, we impede progress as a human race.

No, we are not all the same, we each have amazing minds that can think for ourselves and learn from our history.  Some people will continue to cling to tradition, refuse to believe something different from what they are taught to believe. They should be free to continue practicing what they believe, as long as it doesn’t violate the civil rights of any other culture, sex, race or religion. I do not wish to force my ideas on any other. But, those that cling, those that refuse to open their minds will fall behind progress and eventually cease to exist, it is evolution after all, survival of the fittest.

The reason some societies cease to exist is lack of progress. Lack of advancement in technology and science. Modern civilizations learn about science, they learn how to take better care of the earth, they learn how to fight disease, prevent it even. Those societies that choose to rely on tradition versus education fall behind in the advancement of civilization, they die of famine and disease. Should we force them to give up the culture, to give up the traditions they believe in? I think we should help educate them, show them a different way exists, but ultimately, basic human rights demands freedom of choice.

It all comes down to choice. Do we choose to progress or do we choose to cling to the old ways? Is technological advancement always better? That remains a different conversation, but, as far as this free soul is concerned, live and let live. I choose to live without judgment, but I also choose to look beyond tradition for my education. To believe something because I have seen it with my own eyes, rather than because someone told me I should believe it.

My beliefs are vastly different from those I was raised with. Does that make me better or worse? It indeed makes me different. I choose to not focus on that difference but rather focus on the things that make us the same. We all have the freedom to choose. We all have the freedom to choose our beliefs. We are all humans, we all have imperfections, we all have the freedom to educate ourselves, to choose our beliefs, to stay stagnant or advance.

I think we should all look carefully at the traditions we cling to. It is okay to celebrate where we came from, but let us not forget that tradition is merely a symbol, a way of preserving the past. Are we preserving a past we can be proud of? Are we preserving something we would all do better forgetting? What are your traditions? What history are they rooted in? Are we preserving a past to be proud? Just because it is part of ancestry, is it a tradition that reminds of a past we would be forgetting?


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