[April 5, 2017] My wife’s favorite movie is Fiddler on the Roof (1971) starring Topol. It’s about a Jewish milkman, living in the Ukraine, who is challenged with marrying off his daughters and his attempts to preserve his Jewish religious and cultural traditions as outsider forces encroach on his family’s lives. He sings early in the movie that tradition is what holds us – the community and family – together (see YouTube video, 7:35 minutes1).
Tradition has gotten a bad name lately. Whether it’s religious symbolism, marriage rituals, military folklore, or political customs … critics tell us daily about how it marginalizes and demeans people. Some are saying that all this tradition is holding us back and emphasizes form over substance; rejecting people randomly and unfairly. They are wrong.
Leaders rely on tradition and like any of us; they do so because it’s a customary and proven way introducing new people into the team and keeping folks onboard and comfortable. It works and works very well. No surprise that the military is a classic example where tradition is strong and the values attached to it have remained steady over time.
Leaders, actually most of us, know that traditions are like signposts in our journey along life’s highway. Civilizations have slowly built traditions to keep us in balance, so each of us knows right from wrong (ethics), our place within our families, and makes the world predictable and more enjoyable. Tradition makes each of us realize that we are part of something and belonging is a great human desire.
It is the job of all of us, lead by leaders in our communities, to encourage tradition and learn the ways of those who have gone before us. It doesn’t mean that we are trapped in our past but that we respect it for what it was and what it is. Leadership means making people aware and that is what tradition does for us.
As Topol says, who plays the Ukrainian character Tevye in the movie, “Without our traditions, our lives would be as shaky as a fiddler on the roof.” Yes, of course, he is right.
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