ESSAYS FROM WEST OF 98: TRADITIONS AND HABITS

By James M. Decker

I had a conversation late in the Texas Cowboy Reunion week that’s been on my mind ever since. The TCR’s announcer West Huggins has a great mind for presentation of a rodeo in a way that appeals to modern audiences but stays true to its roots. As I wrote in my last essay, the world is different in 2018 than in 1930, so a rodeo has to recognize that it competes for entertainment dollars in a different way in a modern era. A rodeo has to recognize its roots and build around those roots, so that the event remains true to itself, but it has to be presented in such a way that captures the attention of modern society and appeals to its target audience.

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West and I were discussing how many rodeos struggle to adapt, or don’t even try. He said that a rodeo has to build around its traditions, but then he dropped this line on me: it’s important to tell the difference between “traditions” and “bad habits.”

How often do our communities tell the difference between our traditions and our bad habits? Have we ever actually thought about the difference? A typical definition of “tradition” includes passing on a set of customs and/or beliefs. In our minds, we tend to view “tradition” as passing on of something good and positive to a future group of people. But are we actually doing that? Or have we entrenched certain “traditions” into our communities without seriously examining those so-called traditions to determine whether they are actually a good thing?

The most fitting phrase for this topic is something we’ve all heard before: “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” It’s a common objection to new, different, or unfamiliar ideas in our communities. As I’ve written before, “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is only a good thing if “the way we’ve always done it” is successful and continues to be successful.

Sometimes, an idea is successful for a while, but after changes in populations, economies, or the world around us, that idea stops being successful. We can do one of two things: we can recognize that circumstances have changed and recalibrate our tradition to fit the new circumstances, or we can ignore the new circumstances and let our once-successful tradition slide into a bad habit.

We in Stamford have learned in the last few years with the blossoming of the Texas Cowboy Reunion that the distinction between a tradition and a bad habit is critical. If you have positive traditions in your event or in your community, identify them. Figure out how to build on these traditions and build around them for the modern world, for the audience that you need to capture. But be objective and analyze your “traditions.” Some traditions are outdated and have turned to bad habits. Others might never have been good traditions and have been bad habits for a long time.

Look critically, think boldly. You might be surprised just what opportunities exist in your community.

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James Decker is a lawyer, farmer, and mayor in Stamford, Texas, and the creator of the forthcoming “West of 98” podcast and website. He may be contacted through Facebook at facebook.com/james.decker.

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