Tradition defines us all: from cultures, to societies, to small communities and family, we act and carry our lives along specific patterns that often take the form of ritual or tradition. These are passed down through generations and become catalysts for the shaping of social acts, ranging from dos and don'ts, deeply ingrained in our moral fabric, to daily rituals we observe without really knowing why. But how are traditions formed, and how can they survive our emerging lifestyles, based on constant need of renewal?

The Circumcision, 1525-1530 by Simon Bening.

The Circumcision, 1525-1530 by Simon Bening.

The very notion of tradition is etymologically linked with the concepts of transmission and handing over; its very nature relies on this cutting across generations, on surviving change and defying humanity's relentless fight for progress and replacement of the old. Tradition stands its ground, creating meaning where there is none, potentially making our world more pleasant and familiar. We do, however, need to ask how are particular traditions set in motion. We need to consider who and on what basis decides what gets to be transmitted, in order to fully understand how traditions affect our lives.

Sunday's church communion in El Salvador by Mike Goldwater.

Sunday's church communion in El Salvador by Mike Goldwater.

It’s often thought that traditions derive from religious beliefs which have laid the foundation for many ideas and rituals. It's interesting to note the process by which they came to drive behaviour and regulate social norms. Traditions infuse pressure from community and operate social affective responses, such as guilt or shame.

Alain Fouraux pictured with his family by Dana Lixenberg

Alain Fouraux pictured with his family by Dana Lixenberg

By the symbolic power gained through being repeated and kept over generations, traditions dictate discursive and representational content of our lives. Do we stop and ask why we do what we do? We often hear people declaring a long line of keeping customs: “I do this, because my father did it, and so did his father before him.” It's interesting to question this way of legitimising action, especially when it is at risk of influencing ethical choices and decisions. More than interesting, it is also essential to uprooting long-lasting conceptions and inherited mind frames that are often rather destructive. Many people think what they think, because their father thought it, and his father before him thought it as well. Opinion leads to action, and tradition legitimises opinion. This is a vicious line that eventually validates hate speech, racism, and discrimination, keeping people from questioning the origin of their own opinions and actions.

Young Farmers, 1914 by August Sander.

Young Farmers, 1914 by August Sander.

South Lebanon, 1952 by Akram Zaatari.

South Lebanon, 1952 by Akram Zaatari.

Traditions, however, have developed and evolved in order to keep up with our fast paced existence. We develop new rituals, or rituals are being developed for us. We are caught every day in new routines and customs, we sample them all, turning our lives into loops of trial periods for this or that product, trend, or behaviour. The same inquisitive attitude needs to be adopted here as well.

Palestinian Resistants, Lebanon 1968-72 by Akram Zaatari.

Palestinian Resistants, Lebanon 1968-72 by Akram Zaatari.

As first-generation inhabitants of a new world, expanded over the limitless digital space, and defined by a subsequent limitlessness of thought and creativity, we need to ask whether we are capable of setting in motion traditions that will make the world pleasant and familiar for future generations. Can we operate the same concept of tradition, or do we need an entirely new notion? It seems that our lives are fluid, always chasing the next popular routine, always waiting for updates on our technology, in a frenzy of progress and advancement. We need to wonder whether we take the time to live our today long enough, so that it will become a worthy yesterday for the world ahead of us.

Words: Louise Squire

Copy edited by Elena Stanciu