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The Rituals That Define Us

Respecting Identity

By Aaron RichmondPublished 3 months ago 8 min read
The Rituals That Define Us
Photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash

One of my favorite things about the world is that you can invent traditions. We treat Elf On A Shelf as this thing that goes hand-in-with Xmas, but it came out in 2005. I was a senior in High School already, which means that I've been around roughly twice as long as Elf On A Shelf and celebrating holidays, and not charging a damn thing to anybody to be involved in their celebrations (I don't even have an expectation of gifts... feed me and I'm happy usually, and if you can't do that then add "bring a dish to pass" to the invite and we'll fall back on good ol' Socialism like we always do whenever it turns out Capitalism failed).

Of course, one of my least favorite things about the world is that you can invent a tradition, and then use those same invented traditions to justify the murder and oppression of people who don't happen to share your made-up rituals.

It does not matter that the ritual is made-up. What we believe sets our tone, and what we believe tends to work for us in ways that we can't quite describe outside of a shrug and a "Dunno, Dawg. Works for me." There are no "super secret correct ways to engage with the Universe". There is only "this seems to work. I can tell you about it, if you want."

In the end, everybody is essentially just expressing the same core concepts through different rituals. They're doing the same things, for the same reasons, as everybody else. They're just doing it in specific ways that say, "This way is ours, and it has this meaning to us. By doing it this way, I forge an identity that makes sense to me and my place in the world."

Respecting those traditions is pretty easy. You simply let them be, acknowledge that any harm you're imagining coming to "society as a whole" is over-blown hogwash, and then continue whatever work you're doing to improve this place. I mean... you must be doing something, right? To preside over another and tell them that they're causing harm for seeing a different side of the same rock and engaging with it in a way that is simply different than yours, your way must be exceptional! Keep doing it, and tell me about it. Everything. Lay your life bare before me, so that I may learn your every thought and study them. I am doing no less for you, and I don't necessarily think I'm all that good at it. I spent a long time trying to grasp the concept of prescriptive happiness.

Which then blew up in my face so spectacularly that I now, officially, find the concept to be anathema to anything I wish to accomplish. So come and teach me a better way, and you will find an exceptional student who takes your ideas to places you've never dreamed. The experience will change us both in amazing ways. Come and challenge me, to tear me down, and you will find I'm significantly more than capable of handling my own.

Here's the thing though: everything that applies to me applies to everybody. I'm not particularly special. Sure, I have my skills and I have a brain that's wired in a way to be really good at certain things. For some reason, it genuinely enjoys sitting down and writing long self-obsessed essays. I also happen to know that a lot of people have these damned things, they just keep them secret for various reasons. That's fine, too. I told you above: I am laying myself bare for you, to show you what I can. To teach what I can. To tell my story, in my own words, and with the mindset and knowledge that sometimes I am awful.

Then I find a lesson somewhere, and it's okay. A teacher steps up who lays themselves bare for me in return, I clash my ideas against them, and usually end up pissing somebody off along vague "consent" lines. To me, anyway; don't give me that look, half of you think rape is acceptable and/or amusing under the right circumstances. We all have our struggles and I struggle with understanding why I can be the recipient of a lecture I don't need, but its rude when I give you one that is equally unwanted. I openly acknowledge that dynamic in a lot of different ways, and I work on navigating it (in my way). It also does not help that my hyperfixations and subsequent info dumps are what they are. Everybody loves heavy-handed moralizing!

I do not have a perfect process, but you can absolutely track me getting better at this whole "Life" thing in a pretty cool way and the value of tracking that growth begins to emerge. In the meantime, I get to be utterly batshit insane on main, call myself an artist, and when asked "Oh? What kind of art?" I get to start laughing! It brings me such joy to share myself with others now, knowing that we are both going to have a unique experience. Then I get to adopt a very serious mannerism while I intone, "But for money, I am a wizard in the courts of MSU." and then laugh again - or a second time!

Which I get to complain about, because have you ever met a wizard who was actually happy with their court appointments? They tend to carry two staffs with them at all times; the location of the second explaining their tendency towards stiff movement and overly rigid posture. Unfortunately, this may result in an eventual parting, pending the overall tendencies of the court. But then I will become a wizard looking for money. That story sells itself. The huffy wizard who was ousted from a cushy court appointment and now must wander the countryside, full of sass and sardony.

Throughout the whole thing, I also get to simply empty out my pockets like some kind of kender who absently picks up various thoughts and ideas and just kind of assumes they're all community property. Because they are, end of the day. Just like our various rituals, they're just made-up nonsense anyway, the value of which is that which we give them. I see no value in gate-keeping the ideas, simply because another wishes to keep them secret. It's against my nature, even if I *do* happen to understand.

My nature is freedom, and like most kender? Perhaps I end up sticking my face where it doesn't belong one day and finding myself unable to meet the challenge. Naive? No. Just amusingly unprepared for the reality of the situation. We all learned something, did we not? Told you I was one hell of a transformative student; I never said I would make the process of learning any less painful.

In the same way, I see no real value in any given particular expression of a holiday sentiment. Holidays are made-up to celebrate something in a way that makes us smile and laugh, no more and no less. Time is a construct. Society is a construct. The urge to celebrate is not a construct, that is a human feeling. What matters is honoring it in ways that we find personally meaningful, so that we may declare who we are to others. To begin the process of laying ourselves bare.

The only way to declare war on that is to decide that one form of smile and laughter is superior to another. That not only are there wrong reasons to laugh (which there are some that make me wince in revulsion and often motivate me to action in an effort to prevent), but that these reasons include such petty offenses as whatever the hell Starbucks is doing with their cups these days.

To be sure, hold your traditions that make you happy (whether new or old). Embrace them, share them, be present in them. Allow those rituals and traditions to fill you with their magic if you are having difficulty finding it in yourself, because that is what those rituals and traditions are meant to do. Allow others to do the same, to share in their holiday traditions and their made-up stories that make them smile and laugh and think. And perhaps while thinking, you'll notice that there's a core, underlying element to it all. Something that can't quite be described, though several words will come to mind readily, pending language and experiences and what have you.

On that day, you will weep. Whether for joy or sorrow, you will be unable to tell, but you will be filled with the magic of Life. The beauty that it exists, despite all the best efforts to actively stifle it out. The horror attached to the realization that "all the best efforts to actively stifle" implies a lot of things we would rather not think about. The grief that comes with realizing your place in that harm. The anger over how people exist who have moments exactly that profound, and instead choose to squash the ember of life at its most fragile moments; insisting that their own traditions and rituals are the only acceptable ones.

Nothing will change, of course. You will weep, and you will choose to join the celebrations as they occur. You will be no different, but you will be the forever changed. And you will laugh with those whom you choose to embrace during your rituals, not because these rituals are different and you have much to learn. Instead, you will laugh because they are the same and you have so much to share with one another!


About the Creator

Aaron Richmond

Words weave, worlds unfold,

Growth, knowledge, imagination,

Aaron's artistry flows.

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Comments (2)

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  • Manisha Dhalani3 months ago

    Very thought provoking piece. I'm not always for tradition - especially if I'm not sure about how it came around, but I like your line about "The urge to celebrate is not a construct, that is a human feeling." Thanks for sharing your perspective on this one!

  • Andrew C McDonald3 months ago

    So much literal truth here put out forthrightly and boldly. Acceptance, tolerance, and compassion that is too often not the order of the day, but should be. You are absolutely correct about our made up traditions and how we cling to them… but mostly about how we should allow others to do the same. I have written many tales, poems, etc., about exactly this. I LOVE the line about the location of the wizard’s 2nd staff. This is a great essay. Best of luck to you.

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