Keeping Up with the Times

Becoming and remaining modern requires us to do many things. It requires us to keep on learning all the new technologies that are being constantly invented. It requires us to do everything more quickly. It also means adopting a modern lifestyle. In what ways is a modern lifestyle different from a ‘traditional’ way of life? While we are frequently reminded of the benefits of modernity, not many people ask about its disadvantages.

Modernity and Humanity

The new way of life includes new concepts, technologies, customs and a new language. Scientific thinking and the technologies made possible by modern science have had a profound effect on how we think, and how we relate to people. In order to make progress, science has separated itself from morality. It is clear that progress has made us more modern. But has progress made us more humane?

Where does Tradition End and Modernity Begin?

It is difficult to generalize about something as broad and varied as ‘tradition.’ But this argument can be made about many, if not all generalizations. Every experience is unique. It can therefore never be placed in any single category along with any other experience. This means, however, that we cannot generalize about anything – period.

But if we cannot generalize, we cannot hope to gain understanding and knowledge. All knowledge is expressed in a generalization of one kind or another. To say that we cannot generalize, therefore, is tantamount to saying that we have to give up the quest for all understanding and knowledge.

The Difference­

Traditional communities differ from modern communities, among other things, in that they provide a stronger sense of belonging to its members. The ties that bind modern communities appear to be loose. The difference between a traditional community and a modern one can be seen in the difference between the old-fashioned, extended family on the one hand, and the specifically modern, fragmented family on the other.

Traditional ways of life are rooted in established customs, morals and religion. Heritage is the equivalent of a moral and spiritual home. A person who is willing to abandon his heritage runs the risk of leaving his spiritual home, of becoming spiritually homeless and rootless. Modern man displays a cavalier attitude to heritage and an openness to everything new. The modern outlook is rooted in the conviction that individuals can find their way through life as they go along without the assistance of tradition, including religion.

Tradition places an emphasis on following established, customary ways. The new ways of life are characterized by a willingness to experiment. The modern person likes to try new things, including new lifestyles. Experimentation as such is a part of the legacy of the scientific revolution.

Traditional ways encourage community living. Harmony among members of the traditional societies is very important. Modern persons tend to think of themselves first as individuals and only secondly as members of communities. Formerly, people put a great deal of emphasis on duties. Today we talk mostly about rights and individual self-fulfillment.

The modern person rebels from time to time, possibly because he or she feels enslaved or restricted by something, not the least of which are traditional ways of thinking and living.

Traditional communities place a high degree of emphasis on harmony and consensus. Quarrels are rare in traditional societies. The modern way of interaction is characterized by much confrontation. Lawyers thrive in modern states, while they are practically unheard of in traditional communities.

In traditional communities respecting one’s parents is very important. This is true of a traditional community in any part of the world. In modern societies, parents are not respected nearly as much as they are respected in traditional communities. Some parents may be acting in ways that could be seen as less than respectable.

Religion constitutes the most important part of tradition. Religion calls our attention to God. It advises us to remember God, and to think of Him in the course of our daily life. Religion advises us to pay attention to the teaching of the prophets, and to practice righteousness. Modernity has changed our attitude to religion. It appears to have required becoming religious in a modern way.

Tradition and Language

In order to gain acceptance for new ideas, their proponents feel obliged to discredit the teachings and practices of the past. The language of tradition has been and is being challenged in many ways and from many sources. Traditional language, according to its critics, reflects an outdated understanding of man and his place in the scheme of things. Traditional language, for example, has been accused of being ‘dualistic,’ because it reflects the view that ideas and experiences have opposites.


Author: Abdul Karim Abdullah

Writer and editor

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