Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sacred Cows or How to Wipe Your Bum

"Those cows aren't sacred; they're just in the way!"

The quote above is a line from a song by the band Caedmon's Call, it reflects a story they heard in India, about a man trying to talk some sense into his neighbors. I think it may have some wider implications.

Do you ever wonder why we do some of the things we do? There are a lot of very important things in our lives that are so important mostly because of their own importance. Either because we're so familiar with traditions they provide genuine comfort or because they've been passed down from generation to generation so often it's hefty longevity has taken on substance of its own. In any event, it's not difficult for us to emphasize the importance of an idea, event, action, or memory that the actual reasoning behind it becomes overshadowed or lost.

One of my vivid early childhood memories is how much emphasis my mother put on teaching me to wipe only from front to back when I was learning to use the bathroom. I don't recall any given reasoning other than "that's just the way you do it" and "it's very important. I feel like the emphasis on its importance far outweighed any semblance of actual importance to me at the time. I suspect that incongruity is exactly why the memory itself is so strongly imprinted in my mind.

I had that memory filed in the back of my head as, more or less, an oddity until our daughter was born last year and I was given similar instructions for changing her diaper - with a similar level of import. I asked why and suddenly it all clicked into place. I suspect my mother was just passing down an iron rule she learned from her mother, and so on, probably for generations - without realizing or thinking about the difference in biology that makes it more important for females than it has been for me.

The rule had become detached from its original purposes, while retaining it's serious importance. There are a lot of sacred cows in our lives. I wonder how often we pamper them until they wither and die of old age when all along they were meant to be fattened up for slaughter.

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