Tradition (or “It’s Policy”)

Here’s the scene: you are dealing with a company of some sort and you can’t quite abide by one of their rules – let’s say you are trying to withdraw some money from your bank or return an item to the store. You are halfway through the transaction when the person behind the counter throws a monkey wrench, “I’m sorry, we can’t give cash back on Saturdays” or “we can only refund this item if you are holding the card it was purchased with”, or some other cock-a-mamie rule that ruins your flow. You do a double take, “whaaa?”, you try to be reasonable -( you only needed a ten spot to pay the girlscout for the cookies you were about to pick up), you try to negotiate terms, but no…

“It’s policy”, they say weakly, shaking their head weakly, shrugging and smiling weakly.

It’s the way a worker can be on your side thinking, “what’s the big deal? this isn’t exactly brain surgery over here, this person fulfilled their end of the bargain”, yet be frozen with helplessness because their natural instinct (and employee task), is to help you, yet in this instance they could get themselves in trouble by doing that. They want you to be pleased, to have a pleasant interaction, but there is an outside force, a pre-written law that relieves them of using their brain to solve your problem.

“It’s policy”, is another way of saying, “they don’t trust me to think about this issue”.

Even if the cash is at hand, the exchange is legit, everyone has been ID’d, signed, background checked or patted down, two grown adults aren’t allowed to solve a simple issue in a reasonable manner because someone else invented a policy.

Now, I’m sure there was a reason that the policy was invented. It probably solved some other issue for someone, but the reality is that consumers come across unthinking workers that cite “policy” as a corporate cop out to providing customer service. These workers are not to blame – many of them would love to be in a position of more power, more autonomy, more creative problem solving – but you can hear them on the other end leafing through (or clicking through) a flow chart of troubleshooting scripts. If yours does not fall into that script, those workers would probably not only be dismissed, but legal action might be taken if they took some initiative.

Another word for policy? Tradition! Tradition amounts to some rules that someone before you established (and was obviously waaay more important than you), and you must abide by because…, well…., it’s policy. Tradition is often the authority that rules and is referenced to in a conservative mind set. It is the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” school of philosophy.

Tradition can be wonderful. It can connect us to our history, be a significant player in our celebrations, and add depth to our lives. I am certainly not proposing the eschewing of all tradition – too much would be lost – I just think we have to examine tradition before buying into it whole cloth.

Tradition! The word brings up images of Tevye, the proud, traditional Papa in The Fiddler on the Roof, shouting out “Tradition!” with his fists in the air. The whole movie is about a staunch conservative/traditionalist making allowances for his daughters, upsetting tradition. It is basically about him revisiting “policy” for each of his daughters. I’m sure matchmaking was established for some reason – maybe as a protector of the gene pool, to keep the peace, to keep economies running smoothly – I don’t know, I’m not Jewish or Russian. But matchmaking began to outlive its usefulness for this family and the policy needed to change for them.

Ironically, the image above shows Tevye getting pretty radical by accepting the pairing of one of his daughters to a rebellious revolutionary student. Tevye’s a radical because the coupling bucks the matchmaking traditional system, but it is still understood that the men folk are the ones who control and accept responsibility for his daughter’s destiny.

This ultimately brings us to our present day issue of this “war on women” and the discussion of “traditional” marriage. Those that are so upset about upsetting the marriage tradition are either #1 not history readers or #2 truly interested in stuffing women’s rights deep into the memory hole. It was only recently – within the last century – that it is common for people (gender non specific) to enter into marriage for only reasons of mutual love. You only have to go back a few generation regardless of your heritage, to find stories of marriage for status, money, service, lineage, or convenience. This idea of a man and woman simultaneously agreeing to marry for love and figure out their path in life is a pretty new notion. So if this “new” notion of free will is the norm, it doesn’t make sense to then dictate rules and “traditions” around it to cite authoritatively.

You can make up traditions – we’ve got a family one, like our own olympics, it’s a hoot! – nothing is wrong with that. It’s just that if you make a tradition across the board that doesn’t suit everyone, be aware that you are constructing an exculsive club built around “policy”. Sometimes it’s fun to be a part of an exclusive club, but it’s not fun all the time. Think for yourself. Choose the traditions – or parts of traditions – that work well with your life and your loved ones. Exercise the freedom you have to your own lifestyle, opinion, and rules (to some extent). When someone opposes you, consider whether it is a fundamental opposition – to your values or our Constitution – or just a disagreement over some pomp and circumstance. If nothing else, the next time you hear, “it’s policy”, dare to ask “why” and see how far it gets you – it might give you a clue as to how much the policy makers want you – or their workers – to think.

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