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Tradition: The Enemy of Ethics

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SchoolAssemblyIn a school, it was tradition that only the Matrics of that year would be allowed to sit on seats during assemblies. All other grades, from one to eleven, were required to sit on the floor. They would sit cross legged or in a vertical foetal position, blanketing the floor in rows with the Matrics sitting comfortably in the seats behind them.

The floors were always cold and hard. Sitting was made undignified and uncomfortable. The tradition itself was made even more ludicrous by the fact that stacked at the rear of the hall were more than enough seats for everyone. The only reason these seats were not laid out was tradition.

Then came a small group of Matrics. For reasons both selfish and ethical, they wished to reform this system to allow everyone to sit on seats during assemblies. They drafted a system and formed a practical way that this could be put forth. For all intents and purposes, the system was both workable and advisable.

But there was one problem. In an effort to create a more independent and democratic school environment, all policy changes had to be run by the grade affected, in this case, the Matrics.

Upon merely announcing the policy proposal, the small group of students were faced with resounding disapproval as a number of iterations of the phrase: “We waited. So must they” – were repeated throughout the Grade.

This example may seem trivial to most, but it is merely a symbol of what happens in our society every day. Injustices such as not allowing people to sit on seats are the tiniest of problems. Forced female circumcision, inferior education policies, religious dogma – all these traditions and societal norms and values are carried on and supported not by any of their own merit but because “they were practiced before.”

Bitterness and resentment build up from injustice, but too often, that anger turns into repetition of the very act which caused the injustice. One would hope that freed slaves would try their utmost to abolish slavery, but seldom does that happen. Instead, it is way more prevalent for the slave to seek their own slaves, creating a cycle.

The saddest thing about this cycle, however, is how easy it is to stop. It only requires one link in the chain to grow wise and mature enough to halt the oppression, abuse and inequality. It often takes only one person to grow up and realize that their pain does not justify somebody else’s.

The story which started this article is a true one. It happened in my school. The majority of Matrics voted against the act of allowing all students to sit on chairs during assembly. The act still passed, however, as the group which proposed it bludgeoned their way into forcing what they believed was an ethical action.

Sometimes, democracy causes more evil than good. Society cannot always be trusted to do the ethical thing, and sometimes you need a moral figure or group to lead at the helm. In a just society, we have a constitution to protect these morals by any possible democratic decision that may cause harm.

Overall, if we are to progress as a just, equal and free society, we need to stop thinking through resent and envy and rather through ethics. Those harmed should understand why harm is bad. It is a disappointment to humanity itself when that is not the case.



  1. Kendall says:

    I can resonate with this, but from the other end, where we have a strong helm that’s not listening to reasonable requests. Our school is not democratic at all, all decisions are made by those in power and we have to suck it up: they ignore complaints or suggestions. As a matric group for next year wanting to implement (a legally required) Student Representative Council at our school which is only 8 years old, the head and deputy head say we are “radical and revolutionary” and do not want to allow the students to in fact have a democratic representation in school decisions such as exam timetables and everything else that affects us.

    • Zaggeta says:

      Too much of anything is bad. I’d say in this case that Democracy is probably a way better choice, but a constitution or ‘ethical figure’ is needed in most cases to make sure that the majority don’t become as bad as a dictator.

      What is your heads view on the fact that the majority of schools schools which are generally respected in South Africa (and the world for that matter) have student councils?

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