Comedian Bill Hicks was one-part comedian and one-part philosopher. His shows were not the one-joke-every-12-seconds rapid-fire pace that so many of today’s audiences are familiar with. He mixed his philosophy in with the punch lines. Here’s one bit that has stuck with me.
You’re the only people alive on Earth today. All the people that created tradition, created countries and created rules… them fuckers are dead. Why don’t you start your own little world while you’ve got the chance?
Tradition is important; it enriches our lives. It’s a part of who we are. Culture wouldn’t exist without tradition, custom, and unwritten rules. But when we allow tradition to paralyze us and prevent us from doing what we believe is right, then we permit tradition to impoverish our lives.
There’s a high school football team in Little Rock, Arkansas, Pulaski Academy, that never willingly gives the ball to their opponent. Ever. They’ve been going for it on 4th down for 15 years. They never punt the ball. They’ve won seven state championships with an overall record of 179-25-1 in those 15 years. The math backs it up. Their results back it up. But does anyone else in the country do it?
Of course not. You almost always punt on 4th down. It’s customary. It’s tradition. Everyone knows that. Everyone, that is, except for Pulaski Academy head coach, Kevin Kelley. What he knows is that the football coaches from a century ago who decided a team should punt on 4th down, they’re all dead now. He was brave enough to break with the traditions and unwritten rules and has multiple trophies, national coaching awards, and championships to show for it.
“Professor of Harsh Reality,” Dan Kennedy, often tells a story about his family’s holiday ham. One Thanksgiving when he was young and several generations of Kennedys were present, Dan asked his mom why the ham was always served with both ends cut off.
“I don’t know; we’ve always done it that way. Ask your grandma.”
Dan asked his grandma about the ham. His grandma gave him the same answer his mother did about always doing it that way and told him to ask his great-grandmother. The last living member in the chain, Dan went to his great-grandmother and asked, “Why do we cut the ends off the ham?” His great-grandmother laughed as she told him, “The pan I cooked it in was too small, so I had to cut off the ends to make it fit.”
What have you wanted to do, but never tried because “we’ve never done it that way”? It may seem crazy to everyone else, but give it a shot. It just might work. You might even over-burden your trophy case with the results.
What have you always done without even thinking about it because “we always do it that way”? The people who decided that’s the way it should always be done – they’re probably dead. And if they’re not dead, go ask them.
They may have just needed a bigger pan.