Rituals are important – let’s choose the ‘right’ ones

I’ve been thinking a lot about rituals. Not in the Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom sense but in terms of things we do in order to maintain order, celebrate milestones and prepare ourselves for everyday events. Some of this was prompted after reading an article about “The 21 Minute Entrepreneur” by R Conan. But it’s something that’s been festering in my mind since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold.

In my home city, most workers will have spent almost the entire year working from home. Incredibly, it took a pandemic for businesses to realise that people didn’t have to be under the watchful eye of a manager in order to be productive. Work has finally begun the transition from a place we go into a thing we do. For grammarians – it’s back to being a verb and not a noun!

Students will have spent most of the school year learning from home, taking advantage of the massive technical advancements of the past decade. Most homes in Australia have access to reasons bye internet services – not the 100Mbps or faster network we were promised back in 2007 but generally better than the sub-standard ADSL services that most people had to live with. And cloud services such as Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Webex and others have made it trivially easy for students to connect to teachers and engage in their learning, albeit in ways they scarcely imagined in February.

But all those changes fail to recognise something – the disruption to rituals.

There are some obvious losses when it comes to rituals. My family and friendship circles have seen their share of births, funerals and marriages since the pandemic began. All have been disrupted. Whether that’s because we’ve not been able to attend the funeral of a much loved aunt or the transition of a family wedding into a much smaller affair, family rituals have become a necessary casualty of COVID-19.

But there are so many others. For one of my children, who will be completing their high school education this year, there’s the loss of a major school festival in which he would have taken a major role in. And not to mention graduation ceremonies, muck up day and the simple act of hugging a friend of the last few years, perhaps to never see them again.

For another child, it’s similar. Not celebrating the end of the first stage of school. Thanking a farewelling teachers. Saying good bye to families. Taking part in orientation activities at a new school. So many things.

I like rituals. I have a morning ritual I follow of reading the news over breakfast. When I worship at church (online these days) I like liturgy and ‘ritualistic’ prayers. On days when I’m feeling tired or distracted they help to prepare me and get me into the flow of church worship. On days when I plan to go for a run, I put my running gear on first thing in the morning so I’m ready.

Rituals matter a lot. They are more than habits I think. They have a more visceral hook. They aren’t just about doing something – they’re about an emotional or psychological shift.

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted so many rituals. Whether it was the Haaj, Easter, school graduations, family celebrations or daily exercise programs, we’ve all had to adjust our rituals. This year, it’s likely Christmas, Hanukkah, New Years and other end of year rituals will need to adapt. For many, that will be hard. I’ve celebrated Christmas every year for my entire life in the same way.

I really don’t have an answer or solution to the loss and disruption to the rituals we hold dear. But perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic has created a reset for us – an opportunity to assess the good rituals and those that are perhaps less helpful. Perhaps many of the things that used to keep us busy aren’t as important as we thought.