Posts Tagged ‘tradition

01
Oct
07

Embracing Change

Jack o’lantern

by: Jeope Wolfe

Why do we traditionally carve pumpkins? Why not some other gourd-like fruit? I ask, because I saw a random news story today about the potential pumpkin shortage at Halloween.

Scorching weather and lack of rain this summer wiped out some pumpkin crops from western New York to Illinois, leaving fields dotted with undersized fruit. Other fields got too much rain and their crops rotted. Pumpkin production is predicted to be down for the second straight year.

What will you carve if you can’t find a pumpkin this year?

Following a similar train of thought, what do you do when your traditions look like they might be challenged? Do you ask why your traditions are what they are or do you fight the question? Thoreau had the wisdom to see that, “Things do not change; we change.” (link) So, if we are the ones doing the changing, isn’t it all in our control?

Change, which implies breaking with tradition, was a favorite topic for many off-site employee meetings I attended. We’d break into teams and create these huge lists of how to do things better, how we could outdo tradition. Interestingly enough, little of the conversation dealt with how the tradition came about, in essence creating one of those Catch-22s—how can you avoid the same mistakes with the new changes if you don’t know how the problems started?

Traditions exist for a reason, which in many instances, includes convenience. Our modern day Jack O’Lanterns are based on an old Irish tale about a deal with the devil that goes bad. Immigrants from England, Scotland, and Ireland, used to carving their lanterns in turnips, were happy to move up to the larger carving surface. If pumpkins hadn’t been native to North America, what are the odds that traditional lantern carving would have grown to include them?

Sometimes, we ignore the role of circumstance in tradition, and it often makes us defensive when we’re questioned about traditions. In the end, maybe it isn’t traditions that trip us up so much as it’s our belief about where the traditions come from. I’ve always found an amazing amount of clarity when you go to the source. Outside forces protecting the tradition, without question, sometimes have ulterior motives, but not always, so it helps to have the “real” story.

For instance, think about what happens when you start a new job. You have two options: you can take the time to understand (there’s a difference between understanding and embracing) the traditions of your predecessor, or you can rush in, say everything needs to change, and offend almost everyone. You’re all smart people. I think you see the value in the first option and the danger in the second.

Perhaps it’s time we paid more attention to understanding actions rather than attempting to counteract them without thought. Maybe that’s a tradition worth protecting. I wish you luck in finding your pumpkin this year. If not, I hope it helps to know that you can carve something else. I believe turnips are readily available.

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