TTLG: Actually, Can We Not Do That?
Traditions are one of those facts of life that are always on precarious footing. The more I think about them, the less I like them, and the whole enterprise starts unraveling. If I’m at a family gathering with an aunt who really wants to know my employment status and an uncle who cannot stop giving me advice on a topic he knows nothing about, and I start thinking, “Wait, why do we come together each December when we don’t even really like each oth–,” I have to tell myself to stop. I don’t want to entertain that thought because that is just going to ruin the whole shindig to my own detriment. I’ll know the tradition is bulls—t, maybe even silently laugh at everyone’s spurious antics, but I would still have to show up every year looking stupid and ugly.
So, is there any point in questioning tradition? Do I accept that it has some obscure value that I am not quite equipped to see currently and that I should just wait for it to unveil itself 15 years from now? Do I invent some rationale that makes the deed bearable? Or do I just stay clear of introspection?
Of course, the kind of tradition I am talking about here is of a specific variety: the kind you buy into via your family. These customs entail the events you have to organize; the appearances you have to make; the tasks you have to perform. Wiggling your way out of these traditions is invariably difficult, and I believe most people just acquiesce in their unavoidability. Some of these are, in the grand scheme of things, entirely nugatory — a party every December can’t truly hurt — but some have far wider-reaching consequences. I’ll leave you to think of some examples of the latter, simply because I cannot even begin to dismantle and discuss those kinds of traditions in this space.
In essence, there are “traditions” that you are born into and exercise little control over, like silly things your family does, but also traditions that perpetuate horrible things the system prescribes. You could theoretically mutiny against such customs, but most of us know that in practice the process of rebellion is wholly terrifying, slow and indefinite.
So let’s put those traditions away for now. Let’s switch directions and narrow the scope. I want to talk about the traditions that you can walk out on. Like those at Dartmouth.
There are so many traditions at Dartmouth that we unconsciously take part in without even considering the fact that they’re not particularly fun. Going out and dancing to ill-advised trap music in soiled frat basements every Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday immediately comes to mind. Friday, I get it. Saturday, I think I get it. But Wednesday? Really? How could a Wednesday ever seem exciting enough for a night out? There could not be a more unremarkable, unexceptional day than Wednesday. For all I know, Wednesday is just Tuesday in disguise just like Tuesday is Monday in disguise and Monday is Thursday in disguise.
But somehow, most of us buy into the tradition of going out literally in the middle of the working week, and I don’t think a lot of us could provide a compelling reason for it. I still remember that one fateful day of sophomore winter when my friend asked herself:
“Actually, why do I go out every Wednesday? It’s really f—ing cold and I have a lot of work to do.”
And that was the day she said ta-ta to her Wednesday night frat adventures and fixed her life.
I mean, not really — she probably just did some other foolish activity instead — but the basic idea here is that she questioned a vague tradition that she did not particularly enjoy and put an end to it. You could dispute my definition of “tradition” because it doesn’t seem grand enough or formal enough, but for all intents and purposes, a tradition is just a ritualized belief or action. And sometimes, these rituals creep into our lives so insidiously that we end up organizing events we don’t have to organize; making appearances we don’t have to make; and performing tasks we don’t have to perform. My presence at my family’s December get-together may be mandated by parental decree, but no one can truly force me to show up at that weekly Collis lunch with “friends” from that one class I took that one term that I don’t really care to meet.
And so I don’t. Every now and then I question the quotidian traditions of my life at Dartmouth and ruthlessly sift through them. Which traditions do I actually enjoy? Which traditions have lost their luster? It may seem like a selfish process, but I trust we are all mature enough to understand some selfish decisions are also very necessary. For all you know, the other individuals involved in the tradition are counting on you to end it!
“Hey! We’re going to Lou’s after our math exam as usual, right?”
“Actually ... can we not do that? We really just talk about useless things. I’m so sorry if you wer—.”
“I agree. Let’s not. I can only talk about apple-based desserts and the professor for so long.”
I leave you with that.