When does habit turn into meaningless tradition?

A guru teaching his disciples got annoyed by a cat disturbing the class. He asked his assistant to get the cat and chain it so it wouldn’t distract the class. The next day same thing happened and the cat was chained again. This repeated for a week. The guru suddenly died, the assistant left. A week later a new guru arrived, new assistant as well. The class was about to begin but somebody said “Hey the class cannot begin now, we haven’t chained the cat yet. So one of the students went looking for a random cat and sure enough when they found one, it was chained before the class could begin. From that day, the class wouldn’t begin unless a cat was chained.

Sometimes we all do certain things without entirely thinking about it. Which is fine. We don’t have to analyze and take apart every little detail of every little thing we do in life every day. Sometimes it’s fine to use those brain cells for some other purpose and rely on habit or tradition to take over.

But when do these habits turn in to a meaningless tradition for years (or even generations) to come?

When we stop thinking. When we stop asking questions. When we follow the same old tradition for no other reason other than that it has been a tradition. When we don’t encourage ourselves or our kids to be curious.

It’s school time and according to my son’s pre-kg teacher, I had to “wrap the books and label them” before the first day of school.

It was mixed emotions for lot of reasons. It reminded me of fond memories of my childhood and school days. I was filled with pride and joy that my son is so grown up now and how much I cherish his toddlerhood despite all the ups and downs. I was also filled with dread at the thought of dealing with the “Indian” school system for the next decade and more.

I had a fun childhood. There were people to take care of me and my needs, both at home and outside. My grandpa found joy in covering my books in brown paper, sticking labels and making them look all neat and uniform. He took pride in teaching me how to do it myself. He would only give me one book to cover to satisfy my independence and insisted on doing the rest because he didn’t want to lose the privilege of doing it for me. And that is what I remember the most about preparing for school. Those warm feelings.

But there is a difference now. I can think like an adult. Who’d have thought?

I find it meaningless to cover the books that look so bright with pretty colors and design. Why should kids look at boring brown covers and whatever’s wrong with a ruffled book? That’s what kids do and it’s fine, isn’t it? Some books even have puzzles and drawings and words in the back cover. Isn’t it meaningless to cover that? How is the child supposed to read or look at it if it’s covered? But no, the teacher wants it all covered. Yes sir, she does.

That is dreadful. That I am relinquishing my duties as my son’s teacher in to the hands of this school for at least a quarter of his day. That’s a long time to be learning something wise and interesting and he’s with a teacher who doesn’t want to battle questions? A teacher that doesn’t question things herself?

This is just a minor issue. I wanted to pick my battles so I didn’t insist and instead covered the books and labeled them as required. But this is not the end. There will be more battles, more questions to be asked, more grounds to be stood and more changes to be made. I am very cautious about my habits and actions and it would make it easier for parents like me if teachers and schools questioned things more often. Including and especially the things they have been doing.

I question the way certain things are done whenever I don’t understand them and I’d like my son to be better than me. I want him to be curious and ask a lot of questions. As long as they are not about why he cannot have a dog until he moves out or “Amma, what are those those two things for?” or “Why is appa kissing you in the neck?”. Then I’d have to smack him hard.

I don’t want that to become a habit. Or tradition!

3 thoughts on “When does habit turn into meaningless tradition?

  1. human are animal of habits ….
    difficult to change a habit even if it is meaningless like brown cover …
    it is possible to change if an alternate habit is given … like cover with plastic see through paper ….
    then PLASTIC! ha ha ha

  2. Wonderful post. It worries me to see children growing up in a mechanical, brain-dead world, tuning out the spark within with such meaningless “customs” and iPod headphones. All hail Zombieland.

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