Vail Daily column: The unifying force of tradition
The calendar sneakily flipped into December and the most overt observance of holiday traditions is upon us. Menorahs are lit and Christmas trees festooned with ornaments. Those outside the Judeo-Christian heritage either embrace the merry onslaught of the season or, also justifiably, squirm at their marginalization this time of year. While the December holiday period is at least putatively religious, the month also brings traditions that are wholly secular: Ugly Sweaters, ill-advised romantic relations with coworkers at the company party, griping about the commercialization of Christmas, Festivus, gaining weight and drunk uncles reminiscing about glory days. Each person may celebrate/endure different traditions, but we all share the common experience of humanity.
WE All have Histories
In this increasingly mad country, popular discourse posits our differing traditions as wedges to drive us apart, to create an “us” and a “them.” But to exclude someone because they pray to Mecca, or keep a shrine in their home, or believe in transubstantiation, or do not keep kosher or give offerings of tomato sauce to the Flying Spaghetti Monster makes as much sense as discriminating against someone because they only single-knot their shoelaces. Each tradition may have its own quirks, but we are united by the fact that we have histories that developed to give us the gift of life upon this blue marble.
It is when traditions are viewed at the substrata level that the inanity of their divisiveness becomes readily apparent. Certain Christians feel justified viewing Jews or Muslims or Jains as sinners, not worthy of the kingdom of heaven. The reverse is also true. This is not because the judgers know their presumed foes on an individual level, but only know that they wear a tallit or a niqab or a cross or nothing at all. Yet those same zealots heartily embrace those within their closer circle, even though their traditions may be different. Two Catholics may agree on the fine tenets of Christianity, but one may have their Christmas dinner on Christmas Eve instead of Christmas Day. Or, one may decorate their tree with colored lights instead of white. The other may have ham in lieu of goose for dinner. Their respective family traditions developed in a disparate manner, but yet they still consider themselves brethren. Unfortunately, this principle does not appear to apply to those traditions that developed in a different way, but millennia ago and continents apart.
Drive to be Independent
The modern drive to be independent, to be unique, pushes us away from our shared humanity. Each person has much more in common than our demagogues may lead us to believe. Statistically speaking, almost all of us have 206 bones, two ears, a nose, a mouth, a four-chambered heart. We laugh, we sneeze, we cry, we lament the passing of Michael Jackson. We cherish our family and friends, marvel at nature, try hard to be our best selves. This is true of those that inhabit the manses of Beverly Hills and the impoverished tenements of Cabrini Green. But we become ever more isolated from each other, despite the fact that the Internet provides not only modes of connection, but also the intellectual resources necessary to educate ourselves about those traditions that differ from ours.
Even more compelling than the Internet is the physical experience of celebrating the traditions of others. Being present to witness the rapture on a child’s face when contemplating the magic that let the oil last for eight days and nights is to begin to understand the power of the menorah. Not that one needs to necessarily believe in Hanukkah, but only to respect it and to draw parallels with the comfort found in one’s own tradition. A prevailing ethos of inclusiveness instead of discrimination will allow people from all walks to feel safe to share their traditions and their selves with others. Indeed, this was the founding principle of our country: the ability to observe our traditions without fear of persecution.
Paradoxically, the variety of and disparity between our traditions is a common denominator that unifies our communities, nations and world. This truth is known to all, but many are swayed by the larger, louder forces emanating from their screens. We must have the courage and mental fortitude to resist the lure of reductionist and absurdist thinking foisted upon us by politicians and media hacks. It should be easier to love than to hate. We can then use the energy that we spend warring over minute differences to tackle the true ills that plague us: poverty, environmental degradation and long chairlift lines.
It is with this blissful, embracing, and optimistic spirit that I wish you all a safe and happy holiday doing whatever it is you and your families do. See you in 2016!
T.J. Voboril is a partner at Reynolds, Kalamaya & Voboril LLC, a local law firm, and the owner and mediator at Voice Of Reason Dispute Resolution. For more information, contact Voboril at 970- 306-6456, firstname.lastname@example.org or visit http://www.rkvlaw.com.