The Silliest Ritual

When I purchase some ice cream I want the little plastic spoon to be white, not colored. I don’t like colored spoons.

There is a useless and hideous fluffy piglet dangling in my car, but I want nobody to remove it. It’s my useless piglet.

One of my smartest friends saves all coins from her purse, so she can surprise herself later with a self-paid bonus.

Many of the things we do make no practical sense.

Some teams like passing around a stress ball during meetings. Some companies have an annual celebration away from their offices. Several years ago I regularly invited colleagues to my house to cook dinner for me. And another silly thing I’ve witnessed is an entire department dressing in pink on what the guys called “Pink Thursday”.

Most of these rituals make no sense. But we perform them because we enjoy them. Removing the waste would remove the pleasure we derive from going through the motions.

One of the silliest rituals in the world involves people sending each other best wishes, families and friends getting together, eating lots of food, giving each other little presents, and pretending that it’s all arranged by a fat elderly guy in an unfashionably red jogging suit. We call it Christmas.

It serves no practical purpose, really.

Nevertheless, I hope you enjoy performing these rituals, and going through the motions, as much as I do.

Happy holidays!

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  • http://profile.typepad.com/franoisbeauregard François Beauregard

    Thanks Jurgen for writing this.
    ~françois

  • http://twitter.com/manoelp Manoel Pimentel

    Also known as Cargo Cult. 🙂
    Congrats!

  • http://giovanedilungocorso.blogspot.it/ Roberto

    Hi Jurgen,
    for me and about 1.000.000.000 people in the world (orthodox, catholics and other cristians) Chistmas has a meanig: how and why is it possible that the “first cause and final end”, “unmoved mover” “eternal timeless” “source of cosmic energy (Ki)”, “the great architect”, or whatever we may call the ineffable mystery (the word god is trivial) … wanted to share our experience of human beings?
    This fact has great implications on how we understand ourselves and our relationship with reality.
    Pls read “Scrum in Church” by Arline Sutherland.
    Why I want that my time be filled by worth ?
    Why I prefer to cooperate rather than laying in a hierarchy with a screaming boss?
    The DNA of those (and other) needs is in Christmas.
    About the consumerist side, the fat elderly guy, the feast is not only useless, I think it’s dangerous.
    Here we open another topic. Do the useless things exist? Or maybe we are not aware of their usefulness or their danger?
    Bye

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    No, this is not cargo cult.
    Cargo cult is about people doing useless rituals in the hope of achieve some results, but they don’t understand what they’re doing.
    My post is about doing useless rituals NOT in the hope of achieving some results, but only because people enjoy the rituals.

  • Michael Harrington

    You could make the same shallow accusation of weddings. I think to find the practical purpose of a ritual like Christmas, you have to consider the context of when the ritual originated, what kind of behavior it encourages, what it communicates about the values of those who participate, how an individual’s role in the ritual changes as they get older, etc. Rituals are important cultural feedback loops; you can’t attribute a practical purpose to them because to do so would reduce them to something less.
    Although, I realize these rituals don’t emerge from nowhere (and certainly not from a cosmic father figure), so it’s fun to imagine what the original impetus was — probably something to do with providing an impressive bounty for your family, in the most difficult time of the year to do so.

  • http://profile.typepad.com/jurgenappelo Jurgen Appelo

    I’m not trying to accuse anyone of anything. I’m just saying that the Christmas ritual, with Santa Claus, Rudolph the Reindeer, and everything else, doesn’t make sense. But it’s fun. That is not an accusation, it is an observation.

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