December 9

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The Power of Story Part 8 – What do traditions teach us?


In the last post, we discussed that traditions are powerful when we understand the story and use traditions to honor the past bringing power to the moment. Without understanding the story behind the tradition and the lessons of those stories, then following traditions are meaningless acts.

What if we understand the tradition and fully honor the past in the moment, but don’t allow it to alter how we think and act? In other words, what good are traditions if they don’t change our behavior?

The Purpose of Tradition is to Change Behavior

Let’s take the tradition of Christmas. We view Christmas as a time for giving gifts. Christmas is, of course, a Christian holiday celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ as a gift from God as his holy son. To honor God’s gift to us, we give gifts to others.

Of course, we always give gifts to our family members and close friends. But we also tend to give more to charities, buy gifts for those less fortunate, and generally try to live the Christmas spirit. But why do we just have the spirit of generosity and love to our fellow man for the month of December? Shouldn’t the lesson of Christmas last all year long?

I guess the simple answer is that we are all human, and we tend to fall back to our default ways of thinking and acting. Changing our thinking, emotions, and behavior is relatively easy in the short term especially if everyone is doing it. However, making permanent change is difficult (or at least that’s what we tell ourselves).

Learning from Traditions

Here are two ideas that I believe are often forgotten when it comes to tradition:

First, while it is important to use tradition to honor the past and bring power to the moment, it is even more important to apply the lessons of the past to our future behavior. It is how we translate the past into future actions that matter.

Winston Churchill said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.”

We must use the lessons of our traditions to guide our future actions. If we do not, then we haven’t honored the tradition at all.

Important Questions to Ask

Second, every tradition honoring the past is about living, loving, and learning. We can ask ourselves these three simple questions:

  1. How did the people we are honoring in this tradition live and experience life?
  2. How did they love and serve others?
  3. What can we learn that will make our lives and the lives of those around us better?

Here’s the Midlife Lesson:

Honoring traditions and understanding the stories they represent are a good thing. However, it is what we learn from these traditions that truly matters. It is how we use the lessons from these traditions in our daily lives that make a difference. If we do not, then we have not truly learned from or honored the past.

Here’s the Mighty Challenge of the Day:

    1. What is the next tradition that you will be honoring?
    2. Schedule time to research more about the history of this tradition and what its story can teach you.

How can you implement the lessons of this tradition into your daily life?

Bruce Fleck

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