Business Casual: Respecting Traditions
Traditions, rituals, customs – these strengthen families, communities and countries, enrich our lives and lend stability to our public institutions.
I’m a pushover for traditions, rituals, customs – even a little pomp and circumstance every now and then. All those things, I believe, strengthen families, communities and countries. They enrich our private lives and lend stability to our public institutions.
Thus, the Saturday night before Easter Sunday will find me surrounded by an array of brightly colored plastic eggs filled with candy, treats and the occasional dollar bill, in preparation for an annual Easter breakfast and egg hunt I host for my grandchildren.
I started the hunt a few years ago as a one-time event, when my grandson was three and my granddaughter had not yet arrived on the scene. He loved it, and I did, too. So it seemed only right to do it again the next year and the year after that. Thus, it has become a firmly entrenched tradition, with established rituals and procedures.
As traditions go, it’s pretty simple, but it is important to me – and, I believe, to my family, right up there with celebrations of birthdays, anniversaries, good report cards, successful class plays and memorable soccer achievements.
Beyond the personal, I am a fan of Fourth of July parades, neighborhood picnics and Earth Day. I’m also fascinated by the role of traditions and rituals in our civic lives and especially in the workings of our government and its activities and institutions.
Some manifestations are rather old-fashioned and formal: roll-call votes in our legislative bodies or elaborate forms of address like “my distinguished colleague,” even when the individual in question is neither distinguished nor collegial. But there is something inherently reassuring in the best of those customs and practices, playing to our need for continuity and connectivity.
And the core civility those conventions bring is a reassuring acknowledgement of common goals that can and should rise above the partisan or the tribal. I believe our Georgia leaders are doing a much better job of respecting those traditions than many on the national scene.
It is disturbing to have those civilities disrupted, ignored or subverted in our nation’s capital. I recall the utter astonishment I felt some years ago hearing a South Carolina congressman interrupt a speech by President Barack Obama to Congress by shouting, “You lie!”
Still, that seems almost mild in comparison to some of the cruder and more blatant disruptions that have followed and, sadly, almost become the norm in Washington. During the recent impeachment proceedings, formal as they were, many Congressional leaders found it hard to keep what our grandmothers might have termed “a civil tongue in their heads.”
And the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue has lowered the bar considerably with tweets and public comments that are often demeaning and personal. Regardless of how you feel about his policies, this is a man who insults women, denigrates the military and individuals with disabilities, disparages public servants – many of whom he himself selected – and shows little regard for citizens who disagree with him.
Wasn’t there a time when public officials, especially the country’s highest-ranking public official, respected the institutions, the locations and occasions of our public life – the White House, Congress, State of the Union address, Constitutionally mandated legislative branch responsibilities? And when criticism, even tough criticism, was delivered with some regard for those on the receiving end?
Fortunately, in Georgia our elected officials and representatives have managed to keep the discourse civil, no matter how strong their feelings, and for the most part they aim their barbs at the issue they disagree with rather than those on the opposing side. Even early ads for the upcoming U.S. Senate races, while not always on point, stop short of being vicious.
I don’t know if that is Southern civility, good raising by mamas and daddies, a basic decency that transcends partisan politics or simply an ingrained respect for the rites and traditions of governmental proceedings. But I greatly admire it and pray that it continues.
Could good manners and esteem for worthy traditions restore harmony and effectiveness to our national political scene? I’m not sure, but it’s worth a try.