Editor’s Column: Are you still cutting the end off of the ham?

There’s an old story that applies to any number of human activities.

A little girl watching her mother prepare Sunday dinner asks why the mother cuts the end off of the ham before putting it in the pan.

“That’s what my mother did, you should ask her,” the harried mother says. Granddaughter goes to her grandmother and asks, “Grandma, why did you cut the end off of the ham?”

Grandma furrows her brow and considers her answer. “That’s what my mother did. Let’s ask great-grandma.”

Together grandma and granddaughter ask great-grandma why she cut the end off of the Sunday ham, anticipating a powerful family story or great recipe hint.

Great-grandma’s answer? “I cut the end off of the ham because my pan was too short. I don’t know why y’all keep doing it.”

There’s a lot to be said for honoring and revering history—good, bad and indifferent. We can learn a lot from that. There’s also a lot to be said about repeating history—particularly the bad and the indifferent—for no good reason. We learn from that, too, but not necessarily in a good way. Repeating history for dumb reasons is like falling for the same bad joke more than once… so embarrassing we tend not to ‘fess up.

So why do we do what we do the way we do it? Whether it’s how you cook your ham or how you plan an event, we’re wired to follow our programming. Sometimes we follow that programming right into the closet of irrelevancy. (That’s when you keep making candied sweet potatoes for holiday dinners even though your entire family despises them, but you’re compelled to keep making them because it’s tradition. Insert Fiddler on the Roof lyrics here.)

Sometimes that programming is good, and sometimes it’s flawed. Determining which requires humility, an attribute as valuable as gold these days.

Here’s a challenge: start asking yourself why you do things the way you do them. Are you blindly repeating learned patterns? Is there a better way? I like to think (this is my optimistic side emerging) that we are evolving as a species and finding better, more efficient ways of doing things. Are we? Or do we succumb to habit and yield to tradition, regardless?

By Niki Turner | niki@ht1885.com