There is the path itself,
then there is the path within the path.
As you (and potentially your group) navigate the
and sharp drop offs,
a normative path begins to form.
The precise path you hike is based almost entirely on the steps of the person in front of you, and their steps, by the person in front of them, and so on.
The exact route gets passed down without too much thought from one traveler to the next.
The tradition of any particular culture, tribe, or group has norms and values to guide society and the individual. These norms and values, exercised and practiced, create well-traveled paths that demonstrate a common, often unarticulated agreement upon how we should live.
The paths created (and not-created) are a form of wisdom left from those who came before us. A well-beaten path may be evidence of what works, while lightly-travelled terrain may be evidence of what doesn’t work.
Sir Isaac Newton once said, “If I see further, it is only because I stand on the shoulders of giants.” We cut ourselves from generations of collective wisdom when we entirely neglect the teachings of those who came before us.
Yet, we cannot rely solely on tradition to make sense of life.
No single culture, worldview, or ideology can be stretched to fit all of humanity without serious flaws and shortcomings. Just as individuals have blindspots, so do groups of individuals.
Leaders of a tradition tend to be on the frontlines, creating and maintaining the paths, instructing their followers to walk in their footsteps. When one thinks of, seeks, or actively traverses a new path, it is often taken as an attack on those who are on their old path.
But if you never question or move beyond the path,
How are new ideas to be formed?
How are wrongs to be made right?
How are you to discover if there are better paths?
When we bow to tradition and fail to question the path we are on, our life is directed primarily by others.
Tradition can quickly become restrictive with little room for exploring, being curious, or thinking apart from the group.
Having a predetermined path saves us from the hero’s journey of leaving home and discovering it for ourselves.
Being handed (and holding onto) our tradition’s understanding of where and how we should walk keeps us from feeling the discomfort of being in uncharted territory, surrounded by unknowns and threats. It keeps us from having to make sense of our own original experience.
We find comfort in our freedom being confined within the trails our tradition has made for us. It keeps us from experiencing the “dizziness of freedom” Kierkegaard spoke of that comes with this anxiety.
Might there be other paths to the same destination?
Or other paths to entirely different desired destinations?
There are options besides idolizing or overthrowing tradition.
Daniel Kahnemen, in Thinking, Fast and Slow, outlines two conceptual systems of thought.
System 1 is fast and effortless, like you are on autopilot.
System 2 is slow and deliberate, reserved for complex thinking that requires a great deal of energy.
A traveller operating from System 1 rarely considers the steps he is taking, yet alone why he is on the path to begin with.
This is how we do things here.
He’s on autopilot without much if any contemplation.
A traveller operating from System 2 is questioning
the path she is on,
how she is walking it,
and if there is a better path.
It takes a type of awakening to shift up to System 2 and realize the effects of a tradition’s bulldozing efforts to make clear paths for it’s followers.
It seems to take a jolting pain to shift up to System 2 and realize: this path may not be my path.
As Joseph Campbell once said, “If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”
May you never confuse their path as your own, and would we all begin to explore and experience life outside of our own self-imposed confines.