Driving through Indiana, I was in awe of the windmills dotting the landscape along the highways. Standing tall in rows as far as the eye could see, they were as soldiers, dutifully performing their task of harvesting wind to produce energy. I found it difficult to take my eyes off of the windmills, because their design is so elegant--tall, sleek, white, smooth towers, whose arms move in sync gracefully. Magnificent!
I noticed, as well, standing alongside the pristine windmills, the rusted-iron poles that carry the millions of miles of electric lines across our country. The contrast between these rusty poles and the sleek white windmills was striking. The physical appearance of the old electrical equipment unwittingly adds to the perception that many have of its outdated, no-longer-necessary status. Indeed, there are those who feel strongly that the old method of manufacturing power should be done away with completely, as it is not as environmentally sound as the new methods. The physical appearance of the poles and lines of the traditional system suggested they feel it, too.
Yet, it is simply not possible to maintain our current electrical grid with only the new forms of power generation. While most major power suppliers are adding renewable capacity as quickly as they are able, it is far too early to let go of our traditional methods, or their equipment, without risking loss of electricity to power our daily lives.
We are a people with great interest and desire to move forward. This is a good thing. Look at where our ideas and our values have taken us in our 200 year history. We have made significant progress on things like equality and fair treatment of all. While we are not perfect, consider that as I write this, Saudi Arabia has become the last country on Earth to allow women to drive. Our drive for more has also produced products and services that make us more connected, productive, healthy, wealthy, and wise. Where would we be without the technology of today?
So, what purpose does tradition actually serve?
Tradition is something that is carried forward from the past by people, because they believe it serves a purpose. History, on the other hand, which is studied to make sure we don't repeat past mistakes, is left in the past, because it serves no purpose going forward. Like not allowing women to drive cars.
While the finer points of tradition may change over time to serve changing times, tradition is carried forward. Electricity will continue to be carried forward by various methods, depending on which serves a population best. While midwestern United States may continue to be served by rust-colored poles and lines for years to come, other parts of the world will never see them, because they are just now getting electricity, and it will be delivered with the most up-to-date equipment available, as it should be. Likewise, our mail is not carried by horsemen today, but rather by car--in most places that is. I know of a city on a lake where the mail is delivered by boat, because cars cannot get to many of the homes effectively. Tradition carries on.
For me, tradition serves the purpose of grounding me in something certain, something I can count on to be there, no matter what. Like electricity. Tradition also takes me temporarily back into the past, allowing me to consider or experience something from a bygone era, something that may be an important part of my own past, or of history, in general. Either way, it brings perspective.
While I will continue to embrace our continued movement forward, I will also continue to embrace tradition. Like finding a jelly bean in the bottom of my cone of ice cream at Wilson's in Door County. Like the fact that Santa always tastes the cookies my children leave him to allow them to feel they give back. Like rusty poles carrying electricity to power my newfangled lifestyle.
Is Tradition a thing of the past? For me, it is definitely a thing of my present, because we all need something we can feel sure of.
author of "JOY"