Many people find themselves acting according to superstitions even though they don’t believe in them. On the other hand, there appears to be nothing wrong with following traditions. But what are these two phenomena and is it okay to practice them? In our paper, we will argue that acting according to superstitions just soothes the nerves, and that traditions are often simply the conventional ways of doing things, although they also might have their adverse sides.
Superstitions are convictions that there are causal relations between certain events; these events are not connected by any natural processes. These convictions are not based on evidence; they usually come from beliefs about luck, spiritual beings, etc. Some people, while claiming that they don’t believe in superstitions, might still make wishes while watching stars fall, and so on.
Traditions, on the other hand, sometimes are just ways of acting (wearing particular clothes, practicing specific behaviors, etc.), sometimes – whole events such as holidays. They are shared through interaction, based on the past, and might carry a symbolic meaning. Traditions might also be superstitious to a certain extent. In fact, most superstitions are traditional, but not all traditions are superstitious.
Traditions are often ways of preserving culture. They are practiced plainly because they provide us with a way to do things so common that it would be strange to reinvent ways of doing them every time. Still, traditions might be barriers that hinder or even prevent critical thinking. For instance, cooking a turkey on Thanksgiving day is a tradition that is an important part of the American culture. But the holiday itself has a very controversial nature; it is claimed that it whitewashes massacres of Native Americans (Jensen n. pag.).
So, traditions are practiced because people are used to them. But why do people practice superstitions? In her essay, Wendy Lichtman gives a rather typical example of people’s attitude towards superstitions. She says that she doesn’t believe in this nonsense (Lichtman 101).
Nevertheless, when she is worried about her son, she finds herself performing all these superstitious acts “just to be safe”. This is what we mentioned in our discussions – even though some people say they don’t believe in superstitions, they still perform these actions. Because what if it is really going to help? Why not do it? It is not hard.
As Lichtman herself admits, superstitions “can be comforting” (101). This is the reason why she does it in the first place. Because it is clear that her disbelief in something that actually exists will not cease its existence. And, even though she does not believe in superstitions, it is rather hard to disprove them, as well as it is hard to disprove the existence of an entirely unperceivable unicorn in this room.
But, unlike the situation with the unicorn, there are just too many people who believe in superstitions; whether she wants it or not, it has some effect on her mind. So, acting according to superstitions just soothes Lichtman’s nerves, regardless of being effective or ineffective.
In our opinion, there is indeed no harm trying to step on the plane with your right foot first (although it certainly does not make sense, for how can you make sure that every other passenger does the same?). But this is not bad as long as you do it to a limited extent only. If you let your superstitions drive you through life, for instance, making you carry ten horseshoes in your bag or use some dried spiders instead of medications, you will certainly cause harm to yourself.
As we have seen, superstitions are beliefs in supernatural causation based on beliefs in supernatural things. On the other hand, traditions are often based on the history of a people. Traditions are practiced because they are usually ways to do things so common that it would be unwise to reinvent these ways. Superstitions, on the other hand, are practiced because they give people a sense of control, or because they soothe the nerves of those who do not believe in them.
Jensen, Robert. No Thanks to Thanksgiving. 22 Nov. 2005.
Lichtman, Wendy. “Knock on Wood.” Good Housekeeping. 11 (2000): 101-102. ProQuest.