This conversation is closed.

Why is it so hard to change tradition?

I read of an experiment on-line the other day. It didn't give much information about the origin of the experiment. But it went something like this, There are 5 monkeys in a cage, they have all been slightly under fed. A banana was put on top a podium in the middle of the cage, a monkey climbed the podium and got it. But when he touched it all of the other monkeys got sprayed with cold water. Another monkey went up on the podium when another banana was put there, except he was stopped this time by the other monkeys and beaten for trying to get the fruit. One by one the monkeys were to be replaced, the first new animal that was put into the cage mediately went for the banana, but was stopped and beaten. Then another monkey was replaced, he went for the banana but was stopped and beaten too, but the difference this time is the monkey that was beaten before joined in. The beatings continued as all the monkeys were replaced, and non of the monkeys knew why they were beating the other one up, only that they were beaten themselves for trying.

  • thumb
    Aug 1 2012: I think it is really hard to change tradition and it should be. Tradition was and often is a way of transmitting societal wisdom to masses of people. It can be wrong and we rail against it when it is but we must acknowledge that it can be right too and it sometimes does a lot of quiet good.
  • thumb
    Jul 31 2012: Most traditions evolve for a clear reason. For example, traditions which exclude pork from the diet originate from hot countries, pork being the meat which is fastest to decay. Traditions with clothing and bodily decoration help distinguish friends from enemies and potentially dangerous strangers. Traditions prohibiting close marriages arise from recognition of the dangers of interbreeding.



    The advantage of tradition is the knowledge that certain behaviours result in predictable social reactions or other predictable results. This frees the individual from having to analyse on a case by case basis, and allows them to develop new concepts. Ttradition has value in promoting cohesion in society and in allowing the development of new ideas, so there is good reason for people to believe that tradition is a good thing.



    Sometimes tradition outlives its usefulness, either because the underlying reason for it ceases to apply, or because the reduction in risk arising from traditional behaviour is offset by the benefits to be gained from a non-traditional approach. Where defiance of tradition is the route to progressing a new concept, that tension has value in that it forces testing of the validity of the new concept.
    • thumb
      Aug 1 2012: I tried to give a thumbs up for this Anne. You shall have one when it is working again. Thanks for this interesting and productive answer.
  • thumb
    Jul 31 2012: When humans find something that they like that suites their needs, then it is hard to separate a human from it.
  • thumb
    Jul 30 2012: People love being in control. Traditions represent something that they are use to, that they can predict. When you begin to change that tradition, people begin to fear losing control of the situation.
  • thumb
    Aug 3 2012: The real function of what for humans has become tradition is to free up brain capacity.While you are reading this you are only really aware of a very small part of your surroundings. The rest you are assuming because it takes less brain capacity to assume the wall is still behind you than it does to check all the time. Things and people that behave unpredictably force us to use more of our brain causing tension and distracting us from what we are trying to do. Imagine the stress of people who have lost the ability to make memories. Every situation is new. As groups we observe traditions to make the other members of our group better able to do their job. This is also why small kids can hear the same story every night for a week. They already have to deal with new stuff all the time so a predictable story helps them to feel in control and relaxed. Its also why as we get older we become more set in our ways. As we lose functional brain capacity we seek out predictable situations.
    • thumb
      Aug 3 2012: Dear Peter,
      I agree with a lot of what you say...

      You write..."as we lose functional brain capacity we seek out predictable situations".

      I will add........Unless we have another plan!!! LOL:>)
      • thumb
        Aug 5 2012: I think we both plan to hang on to our functional brain capacity as long as possible. Hopefully the brain is the last thing to wear out! You can have work done on just about everything else.;-)
        • thumb
          Aug 6 2012: Yes indeed Peter...hold onto and expand the brain function whenever possible:>) I personally seek the unpredictable....my plan:>)

          Talking about having work done on just about everything reminds me of a "scene"...LOL
          My buddies and I were having a beer, sharing stories and laughter after a great day of skiing. One guy said his new hip was working really well....another commented that his knee replacements were great....three of the buddies said their shoulder replacements and/or reconstructive surgery was good....and I, of course had my brain worked on because of a near fatal head injury, which they lovingly, joyfully do not let me forget!!!

          One of the guys looked contemplative for a minute, and finally said....
          "do we have any good original "parts" at this table at all?"

          Great cause for laughter, which of course stimulates the mind/body. Now THAT is a great tradition!!!
  • thumb
    Jul 31 2012: Isn't the word "tradition" a synonymn for "the box" we are so often urged to think outside of? Each case ought to be examined on its own merits. Some traditions will be found to be positive and beneficial while others are useless, or harmful even. Habitual, ritualistic behavior can be beneficial, harmful, or innocuous. It is not easy to change a tradition because objects (people) at rest (happy, contented) tend to stay at rest causing the overcoming of inertia to require a significant expenditure of effort. QUOTE: "Tradition does not mean the living are dead, but that the dead are living." --Gilbert K. Chesterton
    • thumb
      Aug 1 2012: Yes Edward, I can see that the word "tradition" may be a synonymn for "the box" we are so often urged to think outside of...excellent point....in my humble perception.

      I totally agree that each case ought to be examined on its own merits, and that some traditions may be found to be positive and beneficial, while others are useless and harmful. We (humans) often get attached to traditions as the one and only reality, and sometimes believe that we cannot live without them.

      With appropriate information, we have the mental capacity as evolving individuals, to filter information to make beneficial decisions in our global societies.
      • thumb
        Aug 1 2012: Bingo! I cannot imagine a scenario where searching-out and eliminating deleterious habits and traditions would be a bad thing. Conversely, new is not necessarily better. That is where the mental capacity you mention must come into play. Sometimes "the Box" is the wise, safe place to be. Other times the best course of action might lie outside "the Box". It takes a certain amount of courage and wisdom to make the right decision. Ain't life fun, Colleen?
        • thumb
          Aug 3 2012: Edward,
          Yes, mental capacity can come into play with each and every scenario as we travel life's pathways. I suggest that "wise" and "safe" may be very different from each other, so it is "wise" for us to know what is "safe" and why.

          Sometimes, we may not have an obvious "course of action", and in that case we can go along for the ride with as much love and courage as we can muster in the moment, always seeking balance:>) Yes, life can be interesting, challenging and fun:>)

          I offer you a senario regarding change, tradition, courage, fear, uncertainty, and a LOT of all kinds of feelings and emotions.

          I was a competitive athlete, singer, dancer, actor, model, very active participant in the community, and in the best physical and emotional condition I had ever been in, when I went horse-back riding one day.

          When I regained consciousness two week later, after an emergency craniotomy and being on life support systems, everything was a blur, and I was in a child-like state emotionally and physically.

          There were lots of people with me (daughter, son, x-husb, sisters, brothers, friends) and they were all a blur....who ARE these people? Who am I? What am I? Over a period of time, when I began remembering bits of information, my question was why am I alive?

          For a LOOOOOONG time, I looked at my acting/modeling portfolio over and over again...looked at articles in the paper about me....acting and playing competive tennis....looked a photos of myself prior to the accident.....that's me??? Really? I read the medical reports over and over again....looked at photos of me with my kids, friends, etc.....that's me? Really?

          Honestly, it would have felt MORE safe to stay in the box the medical professionals tried to give me....never function again....never have to make decisions....never have to work hard again....rest.....relax.....that would have felt REALLY good at that time.

          I kept reaching......reaching......reaching outside the box Edward....beyond what felt safe.
        • thumb
          Aug 3 2012: Sorry Edward....I usually respect the character limit, and I want to finish sharing an idea.

          Many things changed for me at that time in my life. Of course, I still had/have the same family, the same home, the same underlying values, and all things that are important to me.

          One important thing I learned is to detach from those things that are not really important......traditions, patterns, habits that don't make any sense and do not serve me OR humankind. We do not need to get hit in the head to learn this, as I'm sure you know Edward. It is a matter of mindfully taking in information and being aware of how we use information. That is how we can learn, grow, evolve, with a balanced life experience.....in my humble perception:>)
      • thumb
        Aug 3 2012: Colleen,
        I know you are not fishing for kudos, but kudos! What a story. Thanks for sharing your hard-won insight. You are right that If we could learn to wisely and candidly evaluate our traditions, habits, and beliefs perhaps they would not so stubbornly refuse change. Peace. --Edward
        • thumb
          Aug 3 2012: You are very welcome Edward, and thank you for recognizing that it is not for the purpose of receiving kudos. I get plenty of kudos to pack in my security blanket!!! LOL
          Yes indeed.....Peace......
  • thumb
    Jul 31 2012: To a greater or lesser extent, all of us are comforted by a sense of continuity, which tradition provides. I believe this is at the heart of what drives terrorists - the world is changing very rapidly, which overwhelms those with a low comfort level for social change, so they think they must stop it somehow.
  • thumb

    Lejan .

    • +1
    Jul 30 2012: Actually it isn't hard, once one learned to question and to take friendship in individuals rather than in groups.
  • Jul 30 2012: Early childhood brainwashing. Withholders of love and other good stuff, if vulnerable, dependent children do not obey the power and control freaks who try to control them in lieu of controlling their own behavior. If people act properly, children will emulate their good behavior. People who feel powerless (due to their incorrect childhood brainwashing and treatment) try to control others to try to obtain a feeling of being powerful. It always fails so they repeat the behavior thinking next time it will work. Perhaps the solution lies in you, Ian, and me behaving according to our own highest consciousness of what is right, re-programming ourselves from any behavior patterns wrongly instilled in us when we were young, open, vulnerable and dependent on power and control freaks who lacked awareness of the implications and impacts of their behavior. Think about how prejudices get passed from one generation to another. Let's be the generation that chooses to live right and succeeds. We have that power. Let's do it.
    • Jul 31 2012: I like the response, but my generation also needs to question everything now. We are just starting to realize now that when something didn't work in the past most of the time they would just carry on as if it did work. A lot of problems now are just starting to reveal themselves because of over looked errors, and they left the mess for the younger generation. Question Everything.
      • Jul 31 2012: Ian, I think the safest and wisest strategy is to simply speak, act, focus on positive anything and everything. You have more power than you realize. Not just you. Everyone. When we were children adults made us feel that we had less capacity than we did. Some people continue as adults feeling powerless and in need of external authority figures or books to give them guidance, when, if they are honest with themselves, people know what to do in situations by checking in with their own feelings, thoughts, beings. Keep being as Ian as you possibly can. You are unique, powerful, important. Thank you for your inputs here on ted.com. Glad to meet you. You will succeed, you are succeeding in accomplishing your positive goals. Right on, dude!
      • thumb
        Jul 31 2012: The value of a questioning attitude never expires. It is important to question common wisdoms, regardless of who articulates or lives by them. This is not just about the young questioning the older or the older the younger. This means also questioning the conventional wisdom among ones own friends/peers or those in ones own discipline.
  • thumb
    Aug 3 2012: I recall the song "Tradition" in the play Fiddler on the roof. That led me along other thoughts mso let me throw some different thoughts into the fray.

    Many of the "traditions" were religious taboos for the health or sometime to the benefit of the "church". As an example the Jewish were told not to eat pork. The problem was not the pig or even the pork ... it was the disease trichinosis. Eating fish on Fridays ..... I think you can see the point.

    Many of these things have gone away with modern methods and applications, as well as education of the masses. We probally would not burn witches in Salem today and would look for the mold in the wheat as the cause.

    So a look at the root of customs and traditions is not only fun but very informative.

    All the best. Bob.
    • thumb
      Aug 3 2012: Good point Bob!!!
      Pork.....tradition......reminds me..........:>)

      When I was very young, my wasband (was my husband) was starting out a new career, and we had all the new office staff over for dinner. I made a lovely pork roast dinner with all the fixings, which was a huge success.

      During the dinner, one person said to another, how does that pork taste to you....being Jewish and all. OH MY GOODNESS....I never even thought about that. I felt terrible....for a minute! The woman who was Jewish, laughed heartily and said..."if this was 2000 years ago, I probably would not be eating it because they had no refrigeration then. Colleen has a frig., and I trust that she kept the meat refrigerated prior to cooking it......right Colleen? That was my education regarding the underlying reason for that tradition.

      I'm sure that many people still honor that tradition/requirement of the faith, and that is a choice individuals make.

      Fiddler is a GREAT show...is it not?
  • Aug 2 2012: Fear of change.
  • thumb
    Aug 2 2012: It is always hard to change tradition because people love the convinient and the familiar; and sometimes an experienced fellow thinks things will always go in a way he or she has known it to go.

    But sometimes people are just too foolish to desire change for the sake of change. Not because a certain tradition has failed or that it does not work. But because such traditions require the kind of discipline and commitment that they are not willing to give.

    I think most people fall into the trap of thinking that wisdom and discoveries are new to humanity; and that anything that is new has to be good, while the old has to be bad.
  • thumb
    Jul 30 2012: When a new idea is discovered people take things differently. There should be two different groups of people:
    1) sheep - people who readily follow others, without really giving much thought
    2) questioners - people who question things

    Sheep are people who readily accept/reject ideas without much thought. They believe in previous ideas without question.
    Questioners want to seek a logical understanding before making a decision to accept/reject. These guys want to make sure they're not making the wrong decision, and constantly analyze new ideas and make an effort to accept/reject them.

    Everyone, to a degree, has both sheep-like and questioner-like qualities. In the end, everyone goes by whatever makes sense to them.

    In another post somewhere, I also believe that there are some dangerous ideas that are so radical and drastic, that almost no one can even accept, no matter how true the new idea may be. Basically, if someone who, their entire life has found that everything they were built on was on the wrong idea, then that can really mess people up. "What's the point of my existence, if everything that made me who I am is now wrong?" If this is true, then it could explain why some people can't accept Evolution or black people or other new ideas. It's probably just too radical to them, and that whatever logic makes sense to us, could be black magic or blasphemy to others.