Modern Rituals. 22 Dec 2011

In the December 2011 Thinking Tank we considered rituals and their role in modern society. Some of the discussion focused on Christmas preparations but we also considered marriage, funerals and other rituals. There was some dissent over what was a ritual and what was just a habit, but in general a triumph of personal meaning over social conformity. Just over 100 ideas were proposed and considered by the group. Here is a summary of what was shared

Espresso Summary: Top 5 (the most supported comments)

  • You don’t need “official” rituals to have rituals of your own – different and at different periods of the year
  • Rituals are fine as long as they can be somewhat “tempered” otherwise they could be quite boring
  • Christmas feels like a big task. Not just the work involved (wrapping presents, preparing food etc) but also the ritualistic ways people behave at this time of year
  • Christmas is too commercial
  • Rituals don’t work when they too superficial – no time and no space to really pay attention to people

Latte Summary: when you have a bit more time


General view is that they can – and should – be personalised to increase their meaning

  • You don’t need “official” rituals to have rituals of your own – different and at different periods of the year
  • Rituals are fine as long as they can be somewhat “tempered” otherwise they could be quite boring
  • Some of the old rituals appears as not mine, others are new and very welcome

There were less supported comments about the specifics of Christmas preparations – carols and family and gifts and food.


Benefits of rituals were contemplative: a time for reflection, pause for thought.  rather than anything to do with pomp and circumstance.

  • The positive side is that it creates space for family time, that it creates moments in the family history
  • Is almost a way to learn myself better, getting a deeper insight into myself
  • My marriage: although I don’t believe in God, I enjoyed the ritual.
  • a time to share

Opinion was divided on more mundane rituals – these comments became Synthetrons but also attracted negative scoring.

  • arriving home. Not just shuffling in and getting straight into the jobs but taking a moment to arrive, greet each other, be present
  • Having a cold shower after a family struggle – you are immediately nourished by fresh energy
  • The checkin and checkout of meetings: To get a sense of the feelings that are in the room, to see the development of the meeting, to get a closer feeling to what happens


There are potential downsides to rituals that the group were aware of, mostly around coercion and falseness:

  • when a ritual is felt more as a constraint rather than an event to look forward to
  • When the ritual itself becomes more important than its original intention
  • When everyone pretends

The group agreed on some strategies to avoid these risks

  • rituals must be considered as occasions – not obligations
  • Distinguish between personal rituals and traditional rituals. Maybe knowing our own reason for participating makes a difference too. It’s not the ritual that has meaning in itself, it is we who choose to bring it meaning (or just go through the emotions)


Ah. Let’s hope that we can all remember these wise words in our hearts during the Christmas and other seasonal festivities

  • a ritual that encourages me to think of the rhythm of life, the tides, the seasons, the births and deaths. Get a sense of perspective and stop obsessing about my own trivia
  • a ritual that encourages us to look within hearts and also at our global connectedness
  • A trueness-ritual … perhaps … like this: If I was born in Ohio, now i would be this, if i was born in Kabul, now i would be this, if I was born in ….
  • A ritual that includes time for deep reflection in a safe environment
  • pause to think about the meaning of what we do
  • It’s not about the stuff – or the stuffing! It’s about the meaning. I can choose for it to be meaningful or I can choose for it to be a chore. Right now I am hoping to have the presence of mind to choose meaningful.
  • Relax, be authentic, thoughtful of others

Full Summary

Click on this pdf file to see all the comments 1112 Rituals full report

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