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The darker side of tradition


Thundery wintry showers

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There's been a lot of discussion on Net-Weather about a supposed downturn in society in the past 50 years, and it's often suggested that it stems from it being more acceptable to be 'different'. I'm afraid I can't agree. I don't have a problem with condemning 'difference' if there's an independent reason as to why it's unacceptable (e.g. it's socially unacceptable to drive on the wrong side of the road because you're likely to cause accidents). But some behaviour is condemned purely because it's different, suppressing individuality and forcing people to conform just for the sake of it, or be rejected. For instance, it's often socially unacceptable in some circles not to want to have children, or to welcome snow.

Some such traditions are also of dubious origin, like the wife taking her husband's last name for example. It's mostly harmless as long as you're happy to follow it (though I have come across men who do associate it with its origins), but there's plenty of women who would rather keep their names, but feel forced into changing them. Similarly, it's socially unacceptable to shake with the left hand because left-handedness is evil because it is. There's a legitimate case for following both of those traditions, but I can't stand the general intolerance of those who dare to deviate, or even question them.

Then you get norms that are harmful even just through people following them, e.g. when a few idiots in a group misbehave, you punish the whole group, or else get sued for negligence. Or, it being considered inappropriate for men to show affection towards non-'family' members, which used to severely restrict men's friendships, and nowadays severely restricts their ability to interact with young children.

Once norms, good and bad, are ingrained in society they can be very hard to challenge or question- social inertia is strong. There's the argument that "it can't be helped because it's just the way it is", "life is unfair and that's life", rejecting proposed reforms as soon as someone can find a flaw in one of them, the argument "adults can make their own decisions, therefore it's their decision to follow the norm, and you can't force people to change, therefore that's life", and "it's meant to be that way because everything happens for a reason", for example. Ironically, the traditions people tend to get most defensive of are the ones that enforce negative behaviour and/or suppress legitimate individuality, probably because those who challenge them have a very good point, and need to be silenced through force for the 'status quo' to be effectively maintained.

The problem in society isn't the tolerance of difference, it's the tolerance of harmful behaviour. In fact, this has always been a problem- it seems new nowadays because we get less abuse of authority, and more abuse of 'freedom of speech and expression', but it still stems from the same sort of thing. Becoming less tolerant of those who are different is not the answer- sometimes, a harmful behaviour can actually be the norm.

Rant over.

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Interesting points there Ian

I think people don't like shaking the left hand because in some countries this is deemed the "toilet" hand and therefore dirty. My son is left handed and dispite people saying "oh that's a pity" like it's some kind of handicap, I would never attempt to get him to use his other hand.

Be proud to be different and to challenge the norms :)

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