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What Tradition and Pesticides have in Common
On the 2 parts that make up both tradition and pesticides.
A few weeks ago, a member of an online group I’m a part of put up some thoughts about tradition. She ended her riff by asking:
“What does this idea mean to you?”
“How can I best articulate this message to a group of farmers?”
At the time, I happened to be in North Carolina shadowing the head of a biotech company. While I was there, one of the things I picked up was the 2 main components of pesticides, and when I heard these 2 parts and their roles described, a lightbulb went off in my brain that tied back to this initial question about tradition.
In pesticides, the formulation is most broadly, the substance makeup of the product. This determines characteristics like how easily it is stored, physical properties like texture, how it is effected by moisture, etc. Although perhaps the most important role of the formulation is that it determines the delivery mechanism for…
The Active Ingredient
This is a pretty universal terminology in things from pesticides to medicine. The active ingredient in a substance is the main biological agent that is producing the desired effect. In other words, it’s the thing that causes the state change where it’s being deployed.
The formulation is delivery driver, and the active ingredient is the package.
How does this relate to tradition?
Carrying the above metaphor, you are the destination.
Tradition, like pesticides, has 2 ingredients. One is the symbolic meaning being carried from the past, and the other is the mechanism for carrying over that symbolism.
For example: Why do we put trees in our home over Christmas?
The evergreen fir tree is symbolic to both pagans and christians due to the fact that it keeps its leafs all year round. Around 1000 years ago in northern Europe where the tradition was started, the symbolism of this year-round lifecycle of the tree was used to promote the idea of ‘everlasting life with God.’
Evidently, it stuck!
Back to the original metaphor, the reminder that ‘life is everlasting with God’ is the active ingredient of this tradition, and this practice of putting up the Christmas tree is the formulation for delivering that message.
While not devoutly religious, I use the above example from Christianity because it is one of the most prominent sources of traditions followed in my upbringing and probably the entirety of my culture. Take independence day traditions as a secular example:
On July 4th in the United States, we shoot fireworks into the sky. In Ukraine, a culture I’ve been growing more and more familiar with, their August 24th independence day is celebrated by a parade in the capital of Kyiv. In addition to this parade, many people take the day to climb to the top of Mount Hoverla, the highest peak in their native Carpathian mountains. These independence day practices are only the formulation for the tradition, whereas the active ingredient is the reminder that at some point in the past, their nation became independent. That reminder behind the formulation is what makes the traditions worth repeating.
Look through the formulations and into the roots of the traditions you practice, to see what active ingredients you are consuming.
We are seeing a starker than ever decline in the practices of our long standing religious and secular rituals, and this decline comes at a cost. I can’t help but wonder if it is because we no longer know what our active ingredients are, and in some cases, we no longer want them. Whether the antidote is to be reminded of our whys, or to seek new ones, the value of tradition shouldn’t cease with the awareness or relevance of its active ingredients.
Next week, I’m going to riff on a paper about weather prediction that led to the butterfly effect and Jurassic Park.
Rinse and repeat.