tradition v change

The most dangerous phrase in the language is “we’ve always done it this way.”

— Grace Hopper

In my lifetime I have heard a few variations of we’ve always done it this way:

  • This is just how it is.
  • It’s tradition.
  • We can’t possibly change it.

I hate them all.

I have no beef with tradition. It has its place, particularly when it comes to cultural traditions and family traditions.

It’s when change is resisted in the work place, or to general day-to-day life, that I begin to have issues.

Tradition is huge at the school where I work. Or, should I say, it was huge. I love it when our Principal says, ‘Just because we’ve always done it this way doesn’t mean it’s a good thing, nor does it mean that we have to keep on doing it.’

If the parents and the kids (and sometimes the staff) LOVE a particular event which is run by the same people, at the same time, in the same way every year — it doesn’t mean they WON’T LOVE an alternative event just as much.

Ideas come and go. People with different passions and skills come and go. The pressure to create a re-run of a certain event is phenomenal. To be told that your ideas are ok, but we have to do it this way is demoralising — particularly when nobody can give you a satisfactory reason why.

A friend told me a wonderful tale just the other day. It goes like this:

Five monkeys were in a cage. There was a ladder in the middle with a bunch of bananas at the top. Every time a monkey went to climb the ladder and get the bananas, the remaining monkeys were soaked with cold water. They came to dislike this, unsurprisingly, and would beat up any monkey who tried to climb the ladder. 

Over time, the monkeys were replaced one by one.

Eventually all of the original monkeys who knew about the cold water had been replaced, but the ‘new’ monkeys (who didn’t have the background knowledge) would still beat up any monkey who dared climb the ladder.

Image courtesy of nuttakit at

The Five Monkeys and a Ladder Social Experiment is believed to never have actually happened; nevertheless it makes for good commentary on management theory and ‘tradition’.

If the new monkeys had been able to speak it is likely they would have said they had no idea why they were beating each other up, other than ‘we’ve always done this when another monkey tries to climb the ladder’.

Whether or not we follow a particular tradition, employ a specific procedure or adhere to a certain ‘rule’ should be based on the merit of the action and the effect it will have on the recipients, not on whether it has always been so.


3 thoughts on “tradition v change

  1. It is my opinion that Tradition has an important role in ‘keeping the balance’ and stop us easily falling off ladders of opportunity. However, CHANGE is so vital in maintaining an evolving and exciting society. To embrace CHANGE with an open mind, for me, opens the doors to creative thinking, as well as scientific and medical pursuits that help produce a wonderful dynamic world society in which to live with passion!! As educators and parents I feel it is our duty to encourage CHANGE in various fields of endeavour. Thank goodness ‘Little children should be seen and not heard’ is a tradition from my early years on this planet that has died! Thank goodness we constantly ask ‘Why’ about so many aspects of our lives.
    It is our duty to provide opportunities for all of us, young and old, to explore, to become CHANGE DETECTIVES!!
    ‘The past is a guidepost, not a hitching post.’
    ‘You can’t wind back the clock, but you can wind it up again!

    Thank you for sharing your stimulating thinking about TRADITION and CHANGE, Kellie.


    1. Janet, I really should send you a draft of these posts, so then I can add your words of wisdom to them. I love “the past is a guidepost, not a hitching post”. One of these days I am going to write something you totally disagree with, then we shall have a corker of a stimulating discussion … even more than we get now.

      After I posted this one, I was driving to my mother’s place to collect our dog (who she was babysitting while we were away) … and I came up with a host of other things I could have said. Never mind.


      1. Just thought of another quote that I often use, think about, especially with regard to education:
        ‘It’s important that we don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater!’

        Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s