Examining “insider culture” – Keeping Tradition Alive

Sometimes, when new people come to Star, it can feel like all the traditions and exciting and fun aspects of Star culture have already been decided. There can be a pervasive “insider culture” that may make new people feel hurt or like they are in the wrong place. As a new person, it can feel like your job to adhere to rigid practices. Tactically, conference leaders can mitigate some of these feelings by preparing new Shoalers through sending them helpful excerpts from the “New Shoaler Guide.

Still, while you can try to “prepare” new Shoalers and they may find the prospect of adopting some Star Island traditions fun and meaningful, it could be more meaningful if there is some flexibility around the way conferences embrace tradition.

Indeed, the reason why tradition is so powerful – and why it draws people to return to Star Island year after year – is that it is not established by one person, it is the product of collective impulses to celebrate and be in the moment. When we recognize those traditions, they become meaningful because we are a part of them and they are a part of us. Many people say when they come to Star, “things never change on Star Island!” Actually, that is not true. Many traditions have evolved. A whole section of the back of the island has been converted to solar panels. If you were a Pel, you probably know well the experience of learning that beloved walls of graffiti from decades ago have been torn down to accommodate fire code projects.

And yet, even while change is all around, we still feel when we return to the island that somehow time stands still. Star Island has a way of accessing a familiarity within ourselves rather than providing an experience that is the same year after year. A place steeped in tradition like Star Island has a greater capacity for change than many people think. We can honor the personal history inherent in those traditions and also allow for those traditions to evolve to reflect the current people on island. This is what we mean by keeping traditions “alive.”

By allowing room to create new traditions, we also make opportunities to instill pride in new parts of the conference population. There is nothing more powerful than feeling like you are present in the moment when traditions begin, that you took part in their formation. This is what builds community, strengthens connection between humans and physical spaces. This is an investment in your conference’s future and a visible act of practicing being deliberately inclusive and respecting diversity.

We encourage conference leaders to be mindful of the role tradition plays in your culture and to challenge your conference to open cracks in those traditions to allow new light to shine in. There is no one way to do this, so you may choose to have your own conversations about how to practice alive traditions in your conference.

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