TW Viewpoint | Is Tradition Important?

February 15, 2017 | Stuart Wachowicz

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Some see it as essential to maintaining stability in a rapidly changing world; while others see it as a senseless anchor, holding back the tide of progression. Which is it? Is tradition important?

In the western world, and in particular in the English-speaking world, there has been, over the past thirty years, a very considerable loss in the valuing of tradition. The modern context of our society seems to be one that wants to recognize and embrace cultural change and elements drawn from everywhere other than that from which the English-speaking world takes its roots.

In England and English Canada there is seemingly an embarrassment about teaching our history, and the elements of culture that produced the English language, English literature, the modern system of parliamentary democracy, common law and many of the freedoms the rest of the world wants to emulate. Education officials are reticent to unashamedly teach this heritage, fearful that they will be called bigoted, yet a nation that forgets its past may well be a nation that will eventually exist only in history.

Retaining valuable aspects of culture is critical to develop a proper pride in one's country and its achievements. This does not equate to disrespecting other nations or cultures, but valuing one's own. It is however difficult to ignore the erosion in the western cultural base. In all manner of things from the work ethic, simple rules of politeness, protocols when meeting people, actions of respect to elders, to how we dress for school, or even how teachers or persons of authority are addressed: the decay of traditional values is evident.

The veneer of civilization is very thin, and traditions, protocols and accepted established expressions of polite behaviour, if lost or not respected, bode ill for the future of such a society.

It is interesting to see what is happening in other cultures. For example in present day China a great deal of emphasis is being placed on maintenance of the ancient traditions of respect and politeness.

The writings of Confucius, a government administrator of 500 BC, are again being taught in all Chinese schools. The Cultural Revolution, that began in 1966, tried to extinguish the ideas of the past, and especially those of Confucius. Yet the new leadership of China has realized the importance of standards and moral education. The mere fact that the Chinese government has Chinese culture represented around the world by Confucius Institutes, is testimony to the importance China is placing on Confucian values, and the critical role China sees for these traditions.

In, August 2009, I was present in Beijing, when a great Chinese scholar and former Vice Chair of the National Congress, Dr. Xu Jia Lu, stated to an assembly of the leaders of Chinese educational systems: " I charge you to make our young boys into strong and gentle men, and our young girls into gracious ladies." This charge was well received and is being implemented in Chinese schools as they strive to re-establish links to ancient China in the context of the new. It is realized by the leadership of the nation that this is necessary to build a strong, peaceful and united nation.

There is a great lesson we can learn: the valuing of the past and the greatness of the ideas upon which a society is predicated must be preserved if that society is to thrive. China now understands the value of a society united in a common set of values, morals and social traditions. The rapid modern ascent of that nation and the new found stability and prosperity of China, is a testimony to the wisdom of the current government's approach.

Here in Canada we need to start to think of the implications of allowing a continued erosion of our heritage. We might do well to consider the traditions, history and lessons that were miraculously preserved and passed on for millennia in a book which heavily influenced western civilization. The text known as the Bible is the source of most of our laws. Perhaps it is time to rediscover the roots of western culture. The hour is late.

I'm Stuart Wachowicz for Tomorrow's World Viewpoint.

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