Stories to create and preserve traditions

We all love a good story, but usually don’t think about the role stories play in our lives.

In traditional societies, story telling helps preserve customs, pass on important knowledge and set behavioral norms.  According to the blog Architecture and Anthropology Curiosity Collective, “Proverbs, fables and folklore pass on common cultural knowledge that will help people fit into and share in cultural identity. Each culture has a set of stories that nearly every child hears as they grow up. Many of them include lessons about acceptable behaviors and other social rules and constructs.”  In modern society, many of the stories we hear as adults accomplish some of the same, that is they create a helpful cultural norm.  Unfortunately, sometimes our stories create the opposite result.

The topic came up today, when fellow Blundering Blogger Dick told a story from the retirement community where he lives, a tale that is broadcast widely and sets a certain expectation.  It seems that when the community was first forming, the board interviewed three potential leaders.  When asked what each thought about the presence of a high school close to the campus, candidate #1 said it created an undesirable situation, candidate #2 said building a high fence would decrease the risk, and candidate #3 said something like, “Perfect.  This will allow us to bring the high school students onto our campus and into our lives.”  Candidate #3 got the job.  Dick says that while this story thrives, the community will stay open to having a high school for a neighbor, but if the story changes the culture also will change.

This got me thinking about stories I heard as a child, one in particular being the story that separated the white community from others and created a norm for housing.  “We’re not opposed to having a black family move into our neighborhood, but it’s best that they don’t since they will bring our property values down.”  For the most part that story has changed, through legislation if not through new attitudes among the story tellers.

Today, we hear a common story about new immigrants, which has created norms in certain communities, such as English is the only language allowed in government offices, and sometimes even in mom and pop stores.

New immigrants deserve a better story.  I am suggesting a story, based on my experiences working with new arrivals to this country who had children in our school system.  My story begins with, “Immigrants are this era’s pioneers.  Being a pioneer means struggling, living constantly with some level of confusion and uncertainty, but always striving to make life better for the next generation.  Pioneers of all generations are hardy, willing to take risks and withstand hardships.  Depending on their country of origin, some experience more hardships than others.  Families often come here knowing no one, feeling shy and nervous about speaking English and unfamiliar with our customs and traditions.  Yet they learn English, hold down jobs, often working for less pay and longer hours than most of us are willing to do.  Eventually they find networks of others that help them break down isolation and better navigate the system. Just when they’re feeling more comfortable that they can manage their daily lives with some success, they see that their children have picked up the new language and customs quickly and are leaving them behind.  The adults will still miss the old country, even after they’ve been here for years. The kids will only remember this country as home. Although being a pioneer sounds a bit like re-enacting the Labors of Hercules, most will tell you that in the end it was worth it.”

What stories operate in your community to create positive norms?

About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness. Also, I'm on the third draft of my second novel since retirement.
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3 Responses to Stories to create and preserve traditions

  1. Pingback: Stories to mystify, exact revenge and embarass | Still Life

  2. Gabriela says:

    Loved this post and got very inspired. Was thinking years back about who we, first or second generation of immigrans, actually are. We immerse in US culture and we bring our own values to it. Based on your post and the idea of who we immigrants are, and having at the same time an assignment in school regarding the same cultural issue, I wrote a poem I dedicated to my children and to my grandparents; on second thought, I dedicate this to all the children, parents and grandparents.
    I invite you to read it.

    For those who want their forefather’s legacy and spirit to be alive forever. I am dedicating this poem to your children, my children and to our grandparents who unknowingly but strongly influence us.

    I Am From…
    By Gabriela C. Sirbu

    I’m from the Balkans and from the Carpatian Mountains,
    And from where Danube meets the sea.
    I am from human presence since the Neolithic there
    Where homo-sapien grandma’ fought for me.

    I am from Thracian tribes of Getaes and Dachs
    Who fought the mighty Romans with though guts,
    I’m from the Burebista – year 40 before Christ
    And from King Decebal whom Trajan dust.

    I am from caves where food was caught with cuspids
    And from the pioneers of flight,
    With heart and brain to fly in eighteen-hundreds
    Today at Boeing still ‘are known as bright.

    I’m from Apollodorus’ Bridge across the Danube,
    I am a fan of Tesla’s vision of setting weather to my wish,
    Although not many understood his fiction,
    But many’ve used in time a remote dish

    I am from where you light a candle when grandpa dies,
    You cry, you eat.
    I am from where you are polite with others
    But no one steps on you for your defeat

    I am from where the pencil was invented
    And Cybernetics, flutes, Enescu’s well known rhapsody,
    In Paris, Queen Marie our courage represented
    She reunited regions, and has her heart locked by the sea.

    I am from where the flags show colors of the skies, and blood, and grains
    And from where Insulin was rooted.
    Am from where beauty of the soul is heard in plains,
    And from when Nadia Comaneci’s ten (10) was trouble-shooted

    I am from Dracula and Transylvania’s famous castle.
    And where bestsellers in the stores have poured,
    Where he, Eliade, was the first to master
    A history of all religions in the world

    I am from where Bill Gates finds talents
    And from the graveyard where you laugh: quite strange.
    And from where beauties Ferragano hires
    To show his fashion on the stage

    I am from cabbage rolls, and wine, and Brandy
    And from the firing circle dances of October feasts,
    I am from “Oina”, the godfather of baseball
    And from where Michael, Gabriel, immersed

    I am from clay, from grass, from strands…from matter
    But mostly I am from truth, from culture, caring, and white dove,
    And from the loving heart and wisdom of grandmother
    I am from action, and tradition, I’m from LOVE !

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