Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Southland Times 29 Dec 1997 Tradition vs Innovation

Tradition vs Innovation

It’s marvellous for young Kiwis to set off on their ‘OE’ (overseas experience) to enjoy the sights and sounds of much older cultures. They see the art and architecture with such fresh eyes and marvel at the thousands of years of history in those places. They don’t care about the terrible crowds, the dirty streets, the gridlocked traffic, the unfriendly people because ‘it’s all happening’ for them and they don’t expect to be there for ever.

Underneath the visible aspects of all the things we see both at home and abroad, is that mysterious thing called Culture. That word means different things to different people. For me, it is simply a system of values, a set of priorities about what society thinks is most important. And here is a fruitful never-ending source of argument.

Each person has an individual set of priorities. Somehow they have to fit in with the general direction of the others around them. Along the stream of time there is always a letting-go of the old and a picking up of the new. In that process there is doubt and uncertainty, and argument and therefore some pain.

This is what makes Europe so different from New Zealand, there is so much past history built into the landscape and into people’s minds that there’s little space for the new. They are stuck in 2000 years of civilisation, surrounded by monuments, stratified into social classes, ruled by a million precedents.

There are times, like Princess Diana’s funeral, when the value of tradition is seen. The organisation was like clockwork and everything fell into place, creating an unforgettable spectacle of sight and sound.

There are other good things about tradition and institutions. For instance it can be a source of comfort for people to know where they stand, and systems evolve which keep things clean and functional, harder to corrupt. Another example of the value of institutions is our own civil service where government functions continue even when government itself is struggling through a major change of process.

In a changing world there is always the problem of what to keep and what to change, what to value - what was worthy yesterday, is it still worthy today? You can see it at a personal level, some of us gather enormous amounts of memorabilia as we travel through life, others keep little to remind them of the past. Some have very rigid ideas of how things should be done, others are very laid back about protocol. Some people love the old buildings of Invercargill, others would bulldoze them.

The beauty of New Zealand life is that there are often no precedents, indeed Kiwis are known as innovators , they have had to be - think of the number eight wire legend. Here is the space to build from scratch, to expand on new ideas, to experiment, to fail, to keep changing, and still to value many things from the past. In fact our tradition IS innovation.

So it’s really good to welcome those young Kiwis home when they’ve had their fill of seeing the world. They have to travel to understand how exceedingly lucky they are. The unique ‘Culture’ that is New Zealand will grow and change because of the sights they have seen, and so it will continue to be a vibrant interesting little set of islands.How about making your New Year’s resolution to be more appreciative of differences? It’s sure going to be mine.

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