Thursday, July 29, 2010

Those hazing days of summer

Tradition. The common thread that binds humanity through the generations. Through repeated customs, we make sense of what often seems like a cold, apathetic, uncaring universe. We seek solace in the practice’s ability to bind society and, once the tradition is satisfied, we look forward to fulfilling the next rung in our eternal ladder of destiny, uniting us with those who trod before us.

Traditions suck.

I know it’s not traditional to say that. Traditionally, you’re supposed to love tradition. It’s supposed to make you/whatever you’re a part of into the person/thing you/it are/is today. And who are you to change that? No one, that’s who! If a tradition wasn’t so special, would it be a tradition? Traditionally not.

Tradition is essentially a flowery term for groupthink, defined as something that spans time and generations, and ultimately gains meaning simply by virtue of being a tradition. In that sense, it’s not your pregame regimen dating back to junior high, or the mustard sardines you eat before every exam. Those are individual rituals and superstitions, but not traditions. Traditions are institutional acts that are special to you because they were special to someone else. Inherited sentimental value, if you will. The kinds of things that you would not do or hold any feelings for without somehow knowing that you’re supposed to do so.

For example, there’s nothing intrinsic about a wedding in a church, with the bride wearing a flowing white dress and the groom wearing a black or gray suit or tuxedo, while a clergyman asks you to repeat traditional vows before exchanging gold bands. The human brain isn’t hard-wired to throw back a homer hit by the visiting team at Wrigley Field. Your mind naturally pops up with thoughts about why we’re here, but Jesus Christ is an acquired taste. When a pitcher is throwing a perfect game, no one acknowledges it. Why? Because you’re not supposed to. Neither abstaining from meat on Fridays nor singing the national anthem actually affects anything, but people do it anyway. Because people do it.

I keep coming back to religious and sports-related examples because these two institutions reflect the ultimate roots of tradition — respectively, discipline/control and a desire to prove yourself. These can be positive traits, but nevertheless are conducive to all manner of rigid, irrational conformity. Many religions practice such as a means to an end, but in sports, it’s often an end unto itself.

Everything that’s absolutely worthless about tradition rendered its ugly head Monday at a Dallas Cowboys training camp. Rookie Dez Bryant allegedly refused to carry Roy Williams’ shoulder pads after practice, after which the media portrayed Bryant as a self-centered jerk. Why? Because apparently it’s a rite of passage for Cowboys rookies to carry veterans’ pads during training camp. And also to foot the bill for expensive team dinners. That’s often the case among sports teams, fraternities and similar organizations.

The idea, as a huge number of apologists will tell you, is that such hazing initiates newbies into a history-rich organization so that they can appreciate the gravitas and carry it on for future members. Oh, and to ensure that everyone knows their place in the hierarchy. It’s tradition!

Personally, I'm tired of this macho, authoritarian, ego-orgasmic mind-set. In reality, hazing serves no purpose apart from providing entertainment for the aggressors at the expense of those picked on. It doesn’t make you a better athlete or forge a friendship. But refusing to cooperate, no matter how rational, can ruin someone’s reputation, thus reinforcing the idiotic concept that it’s these rites of passage that foster team/club unity. So it’s lose-lose for anyone who isn’t blindly following. You’ll be accused of not being a team player even if you claim you weren’t aware of the tradition, like Dez claims was his case. Unspoken rules, as it turns out, are also traditional.

Sadly, such an attitude is increasingly a matter of routine off the field too. When did it become American to absolutely dump on everyone underneath you? I’m not sure, but I suspect it’s a byproduct of buying into the trickle-down version of the American Dream: This is your time to be humiliated. And once you’re humiliated, your earn respect. And once you’ve earned respect, you get the privilege of humiliating the next round of rookies.

I think that's a cause of a lot of societal bitterness these days. With the economy being what it is, a lot of people are either stuck in entry-level hell or find themselves back there after getting a "Go back to start" pink slip in the game of life. No matter how hard they work for how long, they’re still a rookie carrying shoulder pads and paying for the CEO’s fancy dinners.

Many people are willing to put up with this because of the idea that if they work just a little bit harder, one day they’ll be the one reaping the benefits. And when that time comes, they won’t want to be saddled with high taxes or societal obligations. It’s a sort of poignant greed, a self-defeating fantasy, one that only contributes to the increasing gap between rich and poor.

Personally, I don’t go for all that. The hazing. The peer pressure. The groveling. The idea that I’m supposed to revere all of this because it’s tradition. I think work and professionalism should always pay off, regardless of pointless rites of passage. And that everyone who does their best day in and day out should get their due, rather than their turn. Maybe then we’d have more respect for each other instead of feeling so threatened. And, in turn, feel like part of something.

Maybe it could even start a new, better kind of tradition.

Ian McGibboney is not a pro football player and never joined a fraternity.

8 comments:

Tom Alday said...

INTRODUCING THE IAN MCGIBBONEY BLOG POST GENERATOR!

[INTRODUCE A CONCEPT OR THING GENERALLY ACCEPTED BY SOCIETY AND HATE IT. THIS MAKES YOU SEEM EDGY AND INDEPENDENT]

[OPTIONAL - INSERT PERSONAL ANECDOTE EXPLAINING WHY YOU HATE THE CONCEPT OR THING]

[USING OBSCURE NEWS ITEM NO ONE CARES ABOUT TELL HOW CONCEPT OR THING IS RUINING AMERICA]

[INSERT TRITE LIBERAL OBSERVATION RAGING AGAINST CONCEPT OR THING]

[END WITH SAYING SOMETHING THAT YOU THINK IS PROFOUND BUT SOUNDS LIKE IT WAS WRITTEN BY 3RD GRADER]

[CRY YOURSELF TO SLEEP]

FOLLING THIS SIMPLE STRUCTURE YOU'LL BE ON YOUR WAY TO MAKING FORMULAIC, DULL POSTS JUST LIKE ACCLAIMED COPY EDITOR TO THE STARS IAN MCGIBBONEY!

Ian McGibboney said...

INTRODUCING THE TOM ALDAY COMMENT GENERATOR!

[READ WHATEVER IAN WRITES. OR NOT. DOESN'T REALLY MATTER.]

[REFLEXIVELY EXPRESS EXTREME DISGUST TOWARD IT IN ALL CAPS.]

[MAKE PERSONAL CRACKS AT WHAT A WORTHLESS WRITER AND HUMAN BEING IAN IS.]

[NOT OPTIONAL - POINT OUT HOW IAN'S WORK IS A WASTE OF TIME, BUT THEN SPEND HOURS UPON HOURS ANALYZING IT.]

[INSERT CRACK AT HOW NO ONE CARES WHAT IAN HAS TO SAY, THEN SPEND THE NEXT TWO DAYS GOING AFTER EVERYONE ELSE WHO RESPONDS.]

[ONCE THE SPITEFUL ATTENTION SO DESPERATELY CRAVED FADES AWAY, RETREAT TO FAVORITE VIDEO GAME CHAIR, BIDING TIME WHILE WAITING FOR THE NEXT POINTLESS FOX NEWS SCANDAL TO POUNCE UPON FOR A BLOG NAMED AFTER A POLLUTANT.]

FOLLOW THIS SIMPLE STRUCTURE AND YOU'LL BE ON YOUR WAY TO BEING AS SIMPLE AS TOM ALDAY!

Tom Alday said...

INTEL BRIEFING July 30, 2010

**IAN MCGIBBONEY DETERMINED TO SUCK IN THE US**

Several sources have confirmed that known shitty writer IAN MCGIBBONEY is planning an offensive against the blogosphere. His plans include calling anyone he disagrees with a racist and penning boring, meandering missives on his "blog".

CHARACTERISTICS - Always carries 2 items - bottle of ROOFIES and BALL GAG. Takes pictures that make him look like a back alley rapist

KNOWN FOR: Writing for the West Lafayette Community College newspaper. Writing a 3 paragraph article in a paper with a circulation in the high teens.

BOLO, individual is intellectually unarmed and will reply with totally unoriginal comebacks.

Ian McGibboney said...

Personally, I think that anything not directly relating to your skills, performance and work ethic should not be grounds for judgment on the job. I sort of understand why a good attitude counts, but that generally ties into a good work ethic to start with. Of course, there are occasionally employees with great attitudes who are terrible at their jobs. The work should be what counts most of all.

Michael said...

This just in: Tom Alday is still a dick. Water is still wet.

Moving on to the substance, Ian, I think you're overreaching on this one. The basic meaning of "tradition" is "something that is handed on." It doesn't have to be societal, it can be individual or familial. There are good traditions and bad ones, and ones that are in the middle. For example, you close with the point that "work and professionalism should always pay off"--which is itself a tradition, having its beginnings in the works of writers like Horatio Alger. I think it's a pretty good one, myself, but if you're going to ban all traditions simply because they're traditional, you'd have to get rid of that one, too.

Can't agree with you that rites of passage or initiation are always bad, either. Hazing, absolutely. But I have a hard time feeling sorry for a professional athlete who has to pick up the tab for a team dinner, when that tab won't even come close to one-tenth of one percent of the same player's annual salary. Now, if you want to complain about overpaid athletes, there I'm right with you.

For a more neutral tradition, how about the one in hockey that says players don't touch the Stanley Cup until they've won it? Where's the harm in that? Or, for that matter, the mostly traditional idea that you don't touch the conference championship trophy? Stupid, maybe (just ask Sidney Crosby whether it made any difference in the outcome--though Jonathan Toews might have different feelings on that subject), but harmful? Don't see it.

Ian McGibboney said...

Michael, I don't think I called for banning tradition, but I really wish we would stop this "you have to do this" shit. It's not about feeling sorry for rich athletes, but about thinking that these superstitions and little pick-on-the-new-guy routines mean anything.

Traditions get started because of bold people doing bold things. I like to do bold things, not live other peoples' lives. Especially since I never seem to like any of the things people otherwise rational people revere. But that's just me. Maybe nobody else feels that way. Whatever.

Michael said...

Reading between the lines a little, I sense that you're not happy with the traditions you're having to endure. Your privilege, and an understandable dislike. So go do some bold things and create a few new traditions that you do like. The thing about traditions is that if they're going to be effective, they have to be living--which means meaningful. If people are doing something merely because "that's the way it's always been done," that's not a good argument for continuing to do it that way (unless there really isn't another way to do that thing). But if it works for them and has meaning for them, I don't see the harm. Of course, each individual must decide what traditions work for him/her--and that can lead to friction.

Ian McGibboney said...

I think you're right, Michael. There have been a lot of pointless and literally painful things I've had to deal with to do some of things I've done. Mostly from being in high school, but as an adult as well. And what really gets to the heart of my point here is that these things mean nothing to me. And I'm already inclined to hate bullies and authority figures who rub it in your face, so I'm naturally not one to respect anything that fosters that. And I hate when people say this and that is respect when it's not. I do respect some things that could loosely be called traditions, but not because they're traditions. Like you said, there has to be more there. With hazing and things like that, there is no THERE there.