Tradition is the albatross around the neck of progress

May 2nd was a big day for the National Credit Union Foundation because it was the start of our first in-person Development Education (DE) program since 2019. It was thrilling to be face to face again and share that excitement and energy with our amazing participants.

Like you, our team at The Foundation had to pivot and evolve our work during the pandemic. One example of this was the creation of our virtual DE program. We held six programs online since Q3 2020 and helped more than 240 credit union leaders earn their Credit Union Development Education (CUDE) designation. As we return to in-person, I have been asked often about whether we will continue to offer the virtual DE program.

The pandemic forced us all to make changes to our behaviors and environments that we would have never dreamed of changing. As we calibrate to a post-pandemic world, we must take care to consider what we carry forward and what we leave behind.

Tradition is not purpose

Bill Veeck, a visionary Major League Baseball owner throughout the mid-1900’s, once said “tradition is the albatross around the neck of progress.”

While tradition can entrench us, it also can play an important role in how we honor our cultures and how we transfer information over time. Traditionally, the DE program has been in-person for all 40 years of its existence, and it’s clearly demonstrated the value of face to face learning. But not everyone is able to take part in that.

Some participants who attended the virtual DE program would have never been able to travel to Madison, Wisconsin for a week and earn their CUDE designation for a myriad of professional and personal reasons. There were also some people who simply learned more effectively online.  I’m embarrassed to say that this was a blind spot for me and that it essentially took a pandemic to realize that we were excluding people.

Considering the purpose of The Foundation and our DE program, it’s clear that we are here to improve lives. We are here in the service of people, not traditions. This purpose grounds us in our decision to continue offering the virtual DE program alongside the in-person DE program. It also begs the question of “who else are we excluding?”

Like most things in life, tradition requires balance. So we must consider:

  • What traditions do you keep, and why?
  • Who do your traditions serve, and who might they not serve?
  • Do your traditions align with your purpose?

Paradigms and perspectives

Traditions and paradigms are similar in that they create patterns in our world. These patterns are woven through our behaviors and our environments. It can be difficult to recognize paradigms because they subconsciously exist and inform our perspectives.

David Foster Wallace shared this parable when he addressed the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College in his popular “This is Water” speech:

There are two young fish swimming along, and they happen to meet an older fish swimming the other way, who nods at them and says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” And the two young fish swim on for a bit, and then eventually one of them looks over at the other and goes, “What the hell is water?”

The value of pausing and looking around us cannot be overstated. At the DE program, we work alongside credit union leaders to pause and reflect upon our own perspectives and consider new ones.

This work is difficult because it challenges our paradigms and how we see the world. It also can be infinitely rewarding to us as human beings and is essential to the achieving our mission as credit unions. Consider:

  • How are you considering new perspectives, and how are you applying what you learn?
  • Whose perspective(s) do you currently not have, and how might you find them?
  • What do you know about the perspectives and needs of your employees, members and other people in your community? What informs and validates this knowledge?

It shouldn’t require a pandemic for us to recognize our paradigms and challenge the ones which no longer serve us, our employees, our members and communities. We can create new paradigms and navigate future waters with confidence if we remain guided by our purpose and seek to learn from new perspectives.

Chad Helminak

Chad Helminak

Chad is the Chief Impact Officer at the National Credit Union Foundation. Web: Details