In what ways do we in society look to past traditions for cultural ideas?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In human culture, most of the ideas that we have do come from past traditions.  This is natural because our past traditions are the main source of the ways in which we think.  Most often, our cultural ideas come from past traditions unconsciously.  However, there are times when we consciously look back to the past to borrow traditions that we can update for use in the present day.  Thus, two ways in which we in society look to past traditions for cultural ideas are consciously and unconsciously.

For the most part, our cultural ideas simply come to us in a relatively unbroken chain from our past traditions.  Because we and our ancestors have lived with these past traditions for generations, they seem to be the obviously correct ways of doing things and we do not even question them.  We can see many examples of this in our own culture here in the United States.  For example, we have the cultural idea that it is normal for men to have short hair but for women to have hair of any length they choose.  We have the cultural idea that men do not wear anything but pants on their lower bodies.  We have the cultural idea that baseball is a more interesting sport than soccer and that both are more interesting than volleyball.  We have the cultural idea that weddings should include vows said in public, the cutting of cake, the throwing of a bouquet, etc.  None of these things is objectively the right way to do things.  These are cultural ideas that we have simply because these are the ways that things have always been done.  The vast majority of people in society accept these ideas without questioning them because they are part of our tradition.

However, there are times when we do consciously reach back to past traditions to create new cultural ideas (or at least cultural ideas that are derived from older ideas).  This is particularly true of our popular culture.  For example, the smash hit musical West Side Story, which opened on Broadway in 1957, was based on William Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet, which was written in the late 1500s (and itself was borrowed from older stories).  Disney has made many animated movies that have been based on traditional stories from various parts of the world.  These include Cinderella, Snow White, and, much more recently, movies like Mulan, The Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Tangled (based on the story of Rapunzel).  Because there are so many traditions from the past, and because those traditions make up an important part of our shared culture, we often turn to them when we want to create cultural ideas that are at least somewhat new, but which still resonate with people in our society. 

Of course, not all of our cultural ideas come from past traditions.  Human cultures are always evolving.  Even so, many of our cultural ideas are inevitably drawn from those traditions.  Sometimes, we simply continue to use past traditions (with slight modifications at times) as the source of our cultural ideas.  At other times, we consciously look to the past for inspiration and influence as we try to create new cultural ideas.

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