The Cult of the Old: Traditionalism Stinks

In an earlier post, I discussed why some folks are obsessed with all things new. If they’re not on the cutting edge, they may as well not exist. This happens to such an extreme that they chuck common sense out the window. However, the defenestration (sorry, I just had to use that word) of common sense is not confined to the worship of new stuff. Common sense can also be jettisoned by traditionalism.

Please notice that I did not say that tradition stinks. Traditions give a sense of continuity and community. I said traditionalism stinks. By traditionalism, I mean the worship of tradition to the extent that someone holds to it even when it harms them to do so.

I am also not advocating absolute pragmatism. One must hold onto his morals and principles at all times. The ends don’t justify the means.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

You often hear this phrase. Just because something still works does not mean it is the best way. Maybe some new device or technique will make your labor more productive, less labor-intensive, etc.

I’m currently reading through Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations. In it, he describes how a farmer should invest some of his profits to upgrade his equipment. A student should invest her money into being taught more skills. Manufacturers should streamline their factory processes. You can always improve things.

“An organization that refuses to change, refuses to live.”

My brother-in-law once told me this. I have often reflected on its profundity over the years. Human beings and organizations must adapt. If you don’t adapt over time, then you might have to do it all at once. Growing pains are far less noticeable if they happen gradually than if they happen quickly. So, what keeps individuals and groups from needed change?


“What do you mean, I shouldn’t keep doing ‘x’? I’ve been doing ‘x’ for however-many years!” The problem is that “x” no longer works, or does not work as well as it used to. Continuing doing “x” might lead to disaster.


“I don’t know what will happen if I change.” True, but you do know what will happen if things continue the way they are. Let’s say you are standing in the middle of the road and a truck is barreling towards you. You need to move now, otherwise things will get messy. Let the fear move you instead of freezing you in place.

Hurting Feelings

“If I do this, I will make Bobby or Susie sad/angry.” That very well might be. Are Bobby’s or Susie’s feelings more important than survival?

Personality Cult

“I’ve always followed so-and-so. S/he is the bee’s knees.” Maybe they are and maybe they aren’t. Maybe that person has been the biggest impediment to your success. Maybe they’re the common denominator in your decline.

In no way am I advocating running roughshod over people. Change must always be done kindly, carefully, deliberately, and transparently. It must be consistent with your principles. Don’t transmogrify into something soulless in your quest to improve. Transform into something soulful instead.

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