Traditions and habits

Traditions are important to me. One tradition I hold dear is spending the minute of silence at 11am on November 11th in remembrance of the fallen soldiers from wars past and present. My grandfather served in the war, although we were blessed (or lucky, whichever you prefer) that he lived through it. I think of him, during the 1 minute. He died before I could remember him clearly, when I was 4 years old. Perhaps I am supposed to be thinking of those who died in the war, and I do think of them, and rededicate myself to peaceful living, I also think of him, just saying a spiritual hello once a year.

The trouble is, with living abroad, that people have different traditions and it’s hard to keep up. In the UK, Remembrance Day (or just as often, Armistice Day), is held on whatever Sunday is closest to the 11th, and most services are all done then. This can be really confusing for someone who is used to being able to find a service on the actual day, the 11th. In other words, I missed it this year. And I feel devastated.

Traditions are a public form of habit. We have turkey at Christmas because it’s traditional. We kiss at New Year’s because it’s traditional. We give birthday presents because it’s traditional. It isn’t particularly logical. We just do it. Sure, there are historical reasons why dance partners are a man and a woman, but why do we keep doing it and almost semi-enforcing it? Because it’s traditional.

You can get away with traditions in the way you can’t get away with habits, or worse, ticks and ‘behaviours’. The bride wears white at a wedding – it’s traditional. The bride washes her hands seven times an hour – it’s a destructive behaviour. If she doesn’t wear white, everyone is shocked. If she doesn’t wash her hands, she is devastated. The reaction is the same, only more personal.

What about shaking hands when you meet someone? It’s obviously not required (many other cultures bow, for instance) – it’s traditional. It’s habit. But smoking is a habit, and it’s bad. Quadruple checking every light switch is off is a habit, and it’s bad. Avoiding leaving the house without your lorazepam is a habit, and it’s bad. I’m not being opaque here – mental illness related habits are bad. They are ‘behaviours’ (and ‘destructive’ ones at that), not traditions.

But those behaviours are interrupting people’s lives! you exclaim. Sure, for some people. But there are lots of people who have learned to live with their ‘behaviours’ and incorporated them into their lives. They may not wish they were there, but then again, I never liked Halloween candy, so wishing something wasn’t there doesn’t get us very far. The point is, these behaviours are interrupting your lives – all the ‘normal’ people. And you don’t like it, and you worry about us.

I check my work seven times before passing it up to my supervisor. I’m a perfectionist. I’m terribly anxious about my work. But it’s part of who I am. I do better work for it. I am more meticulous than the vast majority of other people. I don’t make as many mistakes. It’s a habit, but before you call it a destructive behaviour, why can’t you accept that it benefits me in as many ways as it harms me?

It would be nice if society as a whole could reconsider the concept of what is a beneficial and detrimental ‘habit’. Traditions hold little more logic than a mentally ill person’s ‘behaviours’. It’s just an issue of how dearly you clutch to these traditions, habits, or behaviours – how much they mean to you, and how much you miss them when they are gone. When everyone cares about them, we get away with our weird little ticks, like obsessively spending money at Christmastime. When it’s only a minority, we get labeled as sick. Chew on that for a minute next time you disapprove of someone’s traditions.


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