“Because That’s How It’s Always Been Done”

Change is hard because people overestimate the value of what they have and underestimate the value of what they may gain by giving that up.
— James Belasco and Ralph Stayer Flight of the Buffalo 1994

How to Cook a Ham

My dad once told me a story of a family who cooked a ham every year for Christmas dinner.

It was a beautiful sight to behold this year as four generations of women prepared the Christmas meal together in the kitchen. There in that small kitchen were: the seven-year-old daughter, the middle-aged mother, the grandmother, and the great-grandmother.

As the mother prepared the Christmas ham for the oven, she used a large chef’s knife to cut the ends off of it. These cuts turned the once-oval-shaped piece of meat into one now with square ends. Then, she placed the square-edged ham in a pan and slid it into the hot oven.

The young daughter’s head tilted to the side and she said, “Mommy, why do you cut the ends off of the ham?”

The mother responded that cutting the ends off of the ham, hunny, helped the juices and the flavor sink in, or so she thought. Actually, she continued, it was because her mother (the grandmother) had always done it this way and that’s the way you’re supposed to cook a ham.

Then, turning to her own mother and whispering she said, “Mom, why do we cut the ends off of the ham?” to which the grandmother responded that she didn’t know exactly, but that her mother had always done it this way and that’s how to cook a ham.

Now, quite embarrassed, the grandmother turned to the great-grandmother and said, “Mother, do you know? Why do we cut the ends off of the ham before we put it in the oven?”

The grandmother smiled a toothless smile and said,”That’s easy. I always did that because our oven back in the ’50’s was very small. Cutting the ends off of the ham was the only way I could fit it in the oven.”

Doing things the way they’ve been done isn’t always the best way to do them.

The Status-Quo

When bicycles were first invented, many parents rejected them and refused to let their children have them. They believed that bicycles were detrimental to the safety and upbringing of children. For starters, they argued, bicycles would take children away from their studies. More time would be spent biking and less time spent reading and learning math. Secondly, bicycles would allow children to stray farther from home than previously possible, bringing about possible danger.

Two pioneers of the bicycle culture pushed parents to embrace the new toys: Wilbur and Orville Wright. Yes, that’s correct, the inventors of the airplane. Wilbur and Orville owned their own bicycle shop before ever flying. In the beginning, they faced scrutiny in their hometown for promoting bicycles, but they pressed forward with the business as a way to fund their endeavors in air travel.

The Wrights challenged the status-quo long before they became famous. And, like them, you too have opportunities to push the envelope, break the mold, and challenge norms.

I believe sincerely that we are all creative thinkers, including you. The trick to thinking creatively is to think like a child and ask the simple questions, such as why we prepare ham the way we do.

You, whoever you are, have questions, concerns, and opinions about why things are done the way they are done. It’s time to stop keeping these questions to yourself and start asking them out-loud. It’s time to start challenging what has been and start thinking about what should be.

You can be the one to question that silly policy at work or that puzzling tradition at your place of worship. Be the one to question your political party or your social groups. Question the things you own, the technologies you use, and the structures around you. Question yourself and your beliefs and biases. Question why we are doing it this way when a better way might be possible.

Most of all, you should refuse to accept the “because that’s how it’s always been done” answer. If that answer was accepted then we wouldn’t today have bicycles or airplanes. And worse even, we might all be cutting the ends off of our ham for no reason whatsoever.

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