I bet you’ve never thought of this simile before, but believe me it’s a keeper.
Every spring pet owners shave their shaggy dogs in preparation for the hot summer ahead. They do so with the best of intentions under the assumption that this will help their dogs cool down. It is understandable why they would think this. After all, they look at a shaggy dog panting in the sun and think “Wow, how would I feel with a fur coat on? Ergo, that pooch must be hot!”
Alas, it is a mistaken assumption. You see, a fur coat that you wear is quite different from the coat a dog wears. The dog’s coat is a true marvel of engineering for while it keeps the dog toasty warm when it is cold out, when it turns hot the coat automatically functions as a handy cooling device. The fact is that this impossibly thick, bushy coat acts to regulate the dog’s temperature year round.
It is true that the coat can lose that effectiveness. If you fail to brush it regularly to remove the dead hairs it becomes matted. And when that happens the coat is no longer good for regulating temperature. Instead, it has become a burden which is only good to be shaved off.
Tradition is like a good coat of dog fur. It grows around individuals and communities naturally over time and if it is tended with care it serves to regulate and situate us quite effectively to engage the world. But if we fail to tend our traditions with due care — and that includes frequent brushing to remove the “dead hair” of misbegotten or obsolete tradition — then the whole coat can become matted and ineffectual.
But if you carefully and critically groom your traditions you will find a powerful asset to help you navigate the world.