When women speak

A little while ago, I attended an annual multicultural function organised by a local community group.

The hospitality was generous – there were mountains of tasty food – and the host was welcoming.

I had previously attended several of these functions, and the format was familiar: welcome, sharing a meal, formal speeches. It’s a protocol used on many occasions.

There is a saying that ‘familiarity breeds contempt.’

The saying is harsh, but in an exaggerated way, it acknowledges the challenge of keeping people engaged and interested over time.

What works well over a long period may become a ‘tradition.’

Traditions are valuable. They convey wisdom across generations, not least because this wisdom has survived the test of time.

They also provide a template – we don’t have to begin each time anew.

We live in an era, however, when traditions are suspect.

One option is to discard them; another is to renew them by introducing new elements.

At the function I attended, several of the speeches were given by familiar faces, reminding us of themes that had been traversed in previous years and therefore were familiar.

A common element in these speeches was honouring the host. The host deserved recognition. Nonetheless, I sensed this time that the repeated focus on the host and several others was, albeit unintentionally, creating an inner circle and an outer circle.

Given that the purpose of the gathering was to promote equality and foster friendships across ethnic boundaries, this was puzzling.

It may be an example of a tradition becoming a little tired, in danger of losing connection with its original goal.

There were some new elements present that night. Two women spoke. (The ones I referred to above were men!)

One was a 13-year-old girl who spoke about the suffering she endured at primary school because she was from a different ethnic group than the majority. The other was an accomplished lawyer who talked about discrimination in her workplace.

They were not familiar faces but their speeches were heartfelt, poignant, and engaging. It left an impression. It injected life into the tradition.

Traditions are essential.

Nonetheless, we live in a time when they are granted little status unless their vitality and relevance can be demonstrated.

This can be unnerving; it also presents an opportunity to inject some creativity.