Tradition & Deer Trails

This week my family spent a week with extended family. This was a great opportunity for story sharing and communal reflection. Kids from different age clusters were able to engage with each other in what we hope are the beginning of long term relationships.

We were able to tell happy stories and painful stories. Pain and trauma is something many families encounter. I wonder how many families in New York encounter the kinds of inter-generational trauma found in my family. We joked that we should hire a therapist for our family reunion. Maybe one year we actually will. However, in the meantime someone made the sign below. It seems the script allows for a different reading.

in one sense the joke isn't a joke, but in another sense the topic shows that at some level we realize that we are broken—at least as a community and we don't want to be broken even if we also don't want to fully embrace a healthier solution.

I had several reflections I think are worth sharing. One was that tradition is those things that we do over and over again with purpose. Tradition has a connected meaning—possibly a socially grounded meaning but an overt meaning. However, sometimes we do things over and over again without any cognizant connection to meaning. This is more like walking down a Deer Trail. The meaning behind our actions in these cases is more like learned socialized norms, but not clearly articulated or connected to meaning—a historical way of doing things but not with overt significant meaning.

For example, we don't have a tradition of drying pool towels in the electric dryer but we do it because we follow the dear trail and do them with the other laundry the same way we stick them in the dryer and turn it on. Then we chat and talk about the summer heat and record highs. Little thought is given to the possibility stringing up a clothesline and setting them via solar power. Even further removed is any discussion of coal burned to create the electricity and then the heat generated by the dryer or the scale of several million people on Long Island drying their towels the same way.

By separating out tradition from deer trails, it gave me pause to wonder if my family is representative of all of Long Island families. That is, the trauma, the way we communicate across generations (or don't communicate), the defensive posture in speech, the swearing, the extreme frustration, the disregard for others responsibilities and wishes that leads to deep hurt and resentment — what part of my experience in NY is highly unique to my family, and what part is representative of the larger social context?

How many families are matrilineal? And how is dominance in these context established, maintained, or negotiated?

While many of our activities could be classified as deer trail activities, it made me ponder and hypothesize that across our group of 20 -/+ that we really have very few shared beliefs. Our opinions and understanding of medical conditions including underlying causes are different, our understanding of social media technology and its influence is diverse, our awareness of how to lead our children as parents is varied. Not to mention variations in political or religious beliefs.

I find myself under equipped relationally and time wise to have conversations with all these people on these topics, and yet I want to have these conversations. While there are loud broad cultural voices that call us to celebrate diversity in our culture, I am reminded of the many civil war families that were divided for generations based on which ideology they followed. That is, does celebrating diversity really work?

If traditions are grounded in beliefs, then what beliefs do we have among us that are common? What traditions are there really and what do we have to hold on to?

It is with all seriousness that we play games together. This is one thing that all of us enjoy!

5 thoughts on “Tradition & Deer Trails

  1. It is the intolerance and lack of respect for other peoples beliefs and practices that drive the wedge. It is the thought, “I must be right and you are wrong. You should do all of this MY way”. That drives the wedge, PRIDE. If you are happy and your way works for you and your family without causing others harm, it’s fine by me, and the reciprocal should be fine as well. In our family we are not capable of taking or giving critique without being offensive or being offended because of our pride.

    • Jed you should come to the next reunion. You would fit right in. ;-) I think there is minimal benefit to being an outside/uninvolved commentator. The real challenge is to be involved, connected, and having the conversation. One point I try to make in this post is that very few of us reflect on:

      • what we are doing
      • why we are doing it, or
      • how well we are accomplishing our own goals.

      The fact that so many of us recognize the trama component and are open to talking about it –together– as such is, I think, a huge step in a positive direction.

      • That seems like quite an expense just to unpack some trauma.

        The point in your reply is not mentioned in the original post at all. You talk of all the trauma that is shared and that people are blindly following what they have always done….

        No mention the few people reflect on their goals, why they have done something, or what they are doing.

        You should type up an agenda for the next gathering maybe people can sign up for group discussion that focus on one topic. (Discussion circles limited to one topic at a time)?

        • I would never suggest paying that much to unpack some trauma. However, one might pay that much to find good health care. Mental and emotional health might be that important to some. The framing of “unpacking trauma” doesn’t seem to be as productive as “becoming part of a solution with…”, or “growing with”, or “healing with”. It’s two different approaches. If people need to unpack that is ok, and may be part of the process. But there is a second healing part which needs to occur beyond the “unpacking”.

  2. Despite all the stress , expense, work, coordination, and what you gave up to be there, connected to this family time, I am so very happy that you made the trip! I am so happy that you got to see Nanny and the others again. Love Oma

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