Yesterday, we discussed a few of the benefits of having rituals in our lives. Today, I want to look at the dark side of rituals, or how they can actually cause you harm.
Disadvantages Of Rituals
There are a number of ways in which rituals can cause you harm. Here they are:
The main effect of ritualizing certain behaviors is to decrease the uncertainty in response to the behavior.
For example, if you have a habit of eating certain foods for breakfast, you have increased certainty in what your morning will look like. Because of this, any anxiety about the morning will be diminished.
Unfortunately, this increased certainty will apply whether it is for a good thing or a bad thing. For example, if your morning breakfast ritual is to drink soda and eat a candy bar, you are merely institutionalizing a bad thing.
Another example would be a very strict religious dogma that says you must kill or convert non-believers.
Imagine the Spanish Inquisition. Between 3000 and 5000 people on trial were put to death during this period because of the ritualization of dangerous beliefs. We can say the same thing about the practice of trial by fire and trial by ordeal.
And what about the practice of having duels to determine who is right in a political debate?
Sure, it’s quite clear who won the duel, and it is a very certain way of determining a policy.
But the ritual itself rests on the erroneous belief that might makes right, and whoever wins in the duel is actually correct in the totally unrelated debate. Obviously, this is just plain stupid.
When we have rituals or systems in place, it can reduce our creativity in dealing with certain situations.
The ritual can just be institutionalizing a specific problem solving strategy which might work in many but not all cases.
In the mathematical proof classes I have taken in college, I have learned specific methods to use in order to solve certain types of proofs.
I might see a key word in the theorem that I need to prove, and anytime I see this word, I attempt to use a certain type of proof.
This often worked, but occasionally this ritual would leave me stuck looking at a problem for hours because I could only view it a certain way, and I lost my creative latitude with proof techniques.
A corollary to this would be decreasing spontaneity in your life. When your day to day tasks are heavily ritualized, you become a slave to the habits.
You no longer have the ability to try out new things, because you “have” to write, work out, clean the house, etc.
Rituals Make You Irrational
As I said before, rituals can make us more certain even about erroneous beliefs.
A ritual or habit is something that we do unconsciously, so we no longer apply logic or a real thought process to those actions. If we are not actually considering the consequences of our actions, we will often become irrational about them.
I am a pretty organized person. Usually the things in my room all have a specific place that they belong in my mind.
Oftentimes, however, these specific places were determined only because they were the first place I put something after I got it.
While it would make sense to keep my sunglasses and my regular glasses in the same location, I didn’t for a long time just because the behavior became ritualized.
This also applies to where you tend to sit in a classroom.
If I show up a little late the first day, I’ll just sit down wherever I find an empty seat. But this might not be the ideal place to sit, since I don’t have great vision and the back corner doesn’t bode well for my paying attention.
For some reason though, even if I arrive early for the next class, I’ll still sit in the same spot! Maybe I’m just dumb, but I think other people do this as well.
Rituals can institutionalize bad habits, reduce our creativity, and make us irrational.
Honestly, this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot more things that rituals can mess up, but I think this is a good start.
It is important to have a balanced perspective on the possible effects of ritualizing certain behaviors before taking any actions that can have serious ramifications down the line.