Thoughtful Thursday#8: Traditions & Climbing

Thoughtful THANKSGIVING TH#9: What is the value of “tradition”?

Climbers are fond of celebrating “Friendsgiving”--an iconoclastic take on the Thanksgiving tradition, shared at crags with friends devoted to a similar passion and the love and energy it provokes. So rebellious and counter-cultural...

But when it comes to “ethics” climbers can be so procrustean, so conformist, doing things a certain way simply because “That's the way it's always been done.” Really--what is this word, “ethics”? Ethics involves weighty questions of right and wrong, life and death, heaven and hell, shadows and light. Tradition often simply involves “The way my daddy did it”--and we can all think of ways that this kind of logic met its evolutionary dead-end.

True, climbing involves emotions and passions that evoke principles taller than the wall being climbed. The questions of risk and the partnership involved command feelings and actions deeper than that involved in the everyday, such that climbing becomes a symbol of something deeper in the human spirit. Climbing bold, uncharted and sparsely protected lines, calls for (and perhaps helps build) virtues like courage. So, there can be value in tradition. But tradition can also hold back potential: Beautiful lines fade into obscurity and broad expanses of appetizing rock lay untraveled for the want of adequate protection. And what is called “ethics” becomes easily mistakable for elitism or even fundamentalism.

This musing of mine isn't a clarion call for the drills. But, on this day when many climbers break from tradition it's a moment to consider the limitations of our own traditions. Tradition binds culture; throwing it out can diminish culture. And climbing has a rich culture: Dirtbags and desk jockeys that structure their lives around crags and gyms, that choose to devote holidays to adventure with their crew. But how do ideas like, “The way I've done it is the way everyone should do it” and “What has been done in the past should be done in the future” limit our culture and our future?

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TTH is meant as a counterweight (but not a criticism of) the oh-so-popular climbing Tech Tuesday posts. See my Sept 5th post for background.